Lisa Lattanza, MD, chair of the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, has been presented with the 2021 annual Diversity Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
The Diversity Award recognizes AAOS fellows and emeritus members who have distinguished themselves through their outstanding commitment to making orthopaedics more representative of and accessible to the diverse population it serves.
“I am honored and truly humbled to receive the Diversity Award from AAOS,” Lattanza said. “This has been an area of passion for me since medical school. I have had the privilege and the honor to collaborate with and work alongside many likeminded individuals who share similar beliefs. I would not be able to receive this accolade had it not been for their collective contributions and support.”
For Lattanza, the journey to this point has been years in the making. When she started medical school in the early ‘90s, the number of women residents totaled only 6% and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts barely existed. She recalls a specific example where the chair from her medical school refused to write a letter of recommendation for her or any woman interested in pursuing orthopaedics. Where many saw challenges, Lattanza saw opportunity.
“I believe a sense of belonging is the natural consequence when diversity, equity, and inclusion overlap,” Lattanza said. “As orthopaedic surgeons, it is important that we reflect the populations and patients we serve.”
Lattanza’s undertakings in the field of orthopaedics have been immersive, global, and conducted through a lens of inclusivity. She co-founded The Perry Initiative in 2009, which is a STEM non-profit named after Lattanza’s mentor, Jacquelin Perry, MD, who was one of the first and most prolific women orthopaedic surgeons in the country.
The Perry Initiative targets women in high school and medical school through outreach programs, providing them with hands-on exposure and mentoring support to pursue careers in orthopaedic surgery and engineering. What started with 18 high school girls in San Francisco has now grown to over 50 one-day outreach programs nationwide annually that have reached over 13,000 high school, college, and medical students through more than 450 events. The match rate into orthopaedic surgery for women who participate in The Perry initiative is about 22% when compared to 1% of women without this experience and exposure.
Lattanza served as president in 2017 for the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society—a leadership development and networking group founded in 1983 for the growing number of women orthopaedic surgeons. She also served on the steering committee for Movement is Life, a multi-disciplinary coalition seeking to eliminate racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in muscle and joint health.
Lattanza has additionally volunteered her widely recognized skillsets in Peru and helped to build sustainable programs in Nicaragua, where she assisted in training physicians to become proficient in pediatric upper extremity surgery.
At a national level though, the field of othopaedics continues to lag behind in diversity when compared to other surgical and medical fields. Among specialties, orthopaedic surgery has the fewest number of women, as well as the least number of individuals from underrepresented populations. Only about 1% of all women medical students match in orthopaedics and 14-16% of orthopaedic residents are women. At Yale however, the number of women orthopaedics residents is now 20% overall and 60% in the incoming PGY 1 class. In addition, underrepresented individuals total 40%.
“Social science typically predicts a 30% representation for efforts such as diversity in orthopaedics to be self- sustaining,” Lattanza added. “Thanks to The Perry Initiative, as well as other entities and organizations working in tandem with this cause, we hope to reach that target of 30% women residents sometime between 2030-2035.”
Barriers exist that make it difficult to reach young women and underrepresented populations. According to Lattanza, early exposure is key, which is why those in high-school are a critically important age demographic. Another challenge is medical school, where orthopaedics itself is often not a curriculum requirement. Finally, while the culture in orthopaedic surgery is shifting consistently in a more diverse direction, that momentum needs to be sustained as more women and underrepresented individuals seek to enter the field.
“My hope is that inclusivity will become naturally ingrained in the culture of orthopaedic surgery,” Lattanza concluded. “One day, all these endeavors for more diversity may be obsolete but until then, we have a lot of meaningful work to do.”