Creating Diversity in Orthopedic Surgery Practice: CI MED Students Lead New Initiative

8/9/2023 Beth Hart

Written by Beth Hart

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Students at Carle Illinois College of Medicine are partnering with a nationwide organization to expand opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups in the field of orthopedic surgery. CI MED students are launching a local chapter of the Perry Initiative, a nationwide group focused on inspiring young women to be leaders in orthopedic surgery and engineering. Students are also teaming up with other medical student organizations to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in orthopedic surgery.

<em>Jona Kerluku</em>
Jona Kerluku

“By hosting The Perry Initiative at CI MED, we would join others who are working toward breaking down the institutional barriers that exist for women and minorities in medicine,” said Jona Kerluku, co-president of the CI MED Orthopedic Surgery Interest Group, which is spearheading the effort. Kerluku says the Perry Initiative is considered a foundational orthopedic program in many major institutions from coast to coast, including Stanford and Columbia Universities. “With CI MED being the world’s first engineering-based medical school, I couldn’t think of an institution more suited to host this program given that our medical school curriculum successfully interweaves both of these fields,” Kerluku said.

Currently, only about 8.5 percent of all practicing orthopedic surgeons in the US are women, only two percent identify as Black, 2.2 percent are Hispanic, and less than one percent are Native American. “It isn't that women and underrepresented groups are not interested in orthopedic surgery. There are just too many structural and institutional barriers that make it difficult for the field to retain the talent of underrepresented groups,” Kerluku said. Her group will also coordinate with the Student National Medical Association (SNMA),the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), and the Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association (APAMSA) at CI MED to increase participation in the Perry Initiative chapter among underrepresented groups.

The Perry Initiative offers hands-on, one-day programs for high school students and medical students, designed to fuel interest in pursuing careers as orthopedic surgeons or engineers. The first session is expected to occur in the spring of 2024. “We have a full-day schedule for high school students to work on their suturing, and to even use drills to fix fractures! These are skills that orthopedic residents themselves are practicing during residency,” Kerluku said.

&amp;amp;amp;lt;em&amp;amp;amp;gt;Dr. Morgan Moon&amp;amp;amp;lt;/em&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dr. Morgan Moon
&amp;amp;amp;lt;em&amp;amp;amp;gt;Mariana Kersh&amp;amp;amp;lt;/em&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Mariana Kersh

CI MED Health Innovation Professor Mariana Kersh – an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering and the director of the University of Illinois Tissue Biomechanics Laboratory – has agreed to present her work that includes studying mechanical properties of muscles and joints during the interactive sessions. CI MED Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Morgan Moon, who specializes in sports injuries and joint reconstruction with a focus on upper extremities, has also offered her expertise to help students gain insights into the field of orthopedic surgery. Dr. Moon is on staff at Christie Clinic.

Orthopedics is considered one of the most competitive specialties to break into as a resident. “That’s why mentorship and the work organizations like the Perry Initiative are doing is so important in helping students overcome these barriers by starting exposure to the field and networking early,” Kerluku said.

&amp;lt;em&amp;gt;The &amp;amp;nbsp;Perry Initiative chapter at CI MED will organize hands-on sessions to spark interest in careers in orthopedic surgery.&amp;lt;/em&amp;gt;
The  Perry Initiative chapter at CI MED will organize hands-on sessions to spark interest in careers in orthopedic surgery.

CI MED’s unique curriculum and emphasis on engineering principles are a natural fit for students interested in orthopedics. In CI MED’s first two graduating classes, five students have been selected for coveted residency slots in orthopedic surgery, including two women – Drs. Christina Moawad (Class of 2022) and Bailey MacInnis (Class of 2023). “Orthopedic surgery is an extremely exciting field not only because you get to improve quality of life for patients, but the specialty also values creativity and innovation. Orthopedic surgery has been applying principles of bioengineering and biomaterials to solve clinical problems and advance the specialty for decades. Naturally, many prospective students come to CI MED with an interest in orthopedic surgery,” Kerluku explained.

In addition to the one-day career exploration sessions, Kerluku expects the new initiative to help prepare CI MED students to approach medical practice with a multidisciplinary lens. “The Perry Initiative opens the door to higher medical education at CI MED for the entire Champaign-Urbana community and we are excited to continue showing the world what our school is capable of. I am especially excited to see how CI MED will contribute to this mission of diversifying the workforce of medicine, particularly in orthopedic surgery,” Kerluku said.

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This story was published August 9, 2023.