When Alana Munger, MD, first started her orthopaedics rotation in medical school, she heard a common refrain. She knew she wanted to be a surgeon, and that sometimes shocked people around her.
“In medical school, I learned there was a lack of women in orthopaedics. I’d tell someone I’m looking to become an orthopaedic surgeon, and the first thing I’d hear is ‘Oh wow, that’s great. There are so few women in ortho,’” Dr. Munger said. “Everyone kept saying this, so I was curious about what the data said.”
She knew it was low, but the percentage surprised her: only 14 percent of those in orthopaedic residency programs are women, according to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Furthermore, women make up less than 6 percent of the membership of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
“When you look at it, you see that ortho is in last place. And it had been that way from over a decade. The literature kept saying there aren’t any female role models. It started me on a path to finding out more,” she says.
Now, Dr. Munger, a second-year resident in the Yale Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, is looking to change that in her own way. Dr. Munger launched “She Can Fix It,” a podcast about women in orthopaedics, the challenges they face, and how they’ve found unique approaches to the hurdles along the way.
"In orthopaedics, your goal is to have patients go back to the lives that they had before, or at least as close as you can to that,” Dr. Munger says. “For me, a millennial, it made sense to start a podcast that shows the ways women have contributed to the field to help people get back to doing the activities that they love. We want things to be easy, instant, and on our phones. A podcast is something that people can listen to while commuting, working out, or have some downtime.”
The monthly podcast, which just launched its first episode in August, will focus on interviews with different women at hospitals across the country and the approaches they’ve taken to various challenges in the field. She said that women have contributed much to the field already, like incoming Chair of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at Yale Lisa Lattanza, MD. Lattanza founded the Perry Initiative in 2009, and is named for her mentor, Jacquelin Perry, MD, who was one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons in the country. That program is designed to expose high school girls to orthopaedic surgery and biomechanical engineering.
The key for Munger, she says, is building a community.
“We know there is a lack of gender diversity, but we also know that there are women who have been through these moments and have ideas to share,” she says. “They blazed this path for us, and faced the adversity, and also contributed in ways that improved surgery for everyone.”
Dr. Munger aims to not only raise awareness and provide a boost to the profiles of women already practicing orthopaedics surgery, but also to shed light on the differences in approaches between men and women. For example, when a fracture occurs, Dr. Munger says the bone fragments may be separated from each other and need to be re-aligned. There are various methods to realign the bone: Many male residents use techniques that require more physical strength in order to correctly realign the bones. Women, on the other hand, have adapted to techniques that require less strength in order to obtain the same results. They might lay a patient on their side to reduce ankle fracture, or hang light weights from an upper arm to reduce tension with a pediatric bone fracture.
The effect is two-fold: creating a strain to tire the muscles out so that the bone could be reset easier, while using less force. That, Dr. Munger says, creates less stress on the patient which potentially leads to less pain and soft tissue damage. It also allows female orthopaedic surgeons to remain fresh, using less strength and to be ready for the next patient.
“What I love about surgery is that you know you helped someone that day,” Dr. Munger says. “You get to go home with that feeling. I hope that the people who listen to this podcast know that they aren’t alone, that there are others who have blazed this trail and that they’ve provided valuable contributions to our field.”