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January 28th, 2016

Pigs’ Feet and Power Tools Help Open Door to Careers in Orthopedics, Engineering

By In the Loop

The Perry Institute is dedicated to “inspiring young women to be leaders in the exciting fields of Orthopaedic Surgery and Engineering.”When it comes time for students to choose a career path, orthopedic surgery and engineering are not at the top of the list for most female students. “It’s traditionally been thought of as an old boys’ club,” says Mayo Clinic's Ian Mwangi. “There’s a stereotype that orthopedic surgeons are jocks, that the field requires brute strength.” And those stereotypes contribute to a “huge gap in the number of women pursuing orthopedic and engineering careers.” How large a gap? Consider this: While about half of medical school students are women, just 7 percent of orthopedic surgeons are.

The Perry Institute, however, is trying to change that. According its website, the nonprofit organization is dedicated to “inspiring young women to be leaders in the exciting fields of Orthopaedic Surgery and Engineering.” One way it's accomplishing that goal is by partnering with organizations around the country to provide hands-on educational programs for high school and medical students. Mwangi, a program manager for the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity, helped bring the program to Mayo Clinic.

“The Perry Institute does a great job of breaking down barriers for students,” Mwangi says. On Jan. 8 and 9, more than 60 medical and high school students gathered for a mix of lectures from Mayo staff, hands-on modules, and Q&A sessions with women working in the fields. They used power tools and manufactured “bones” to simulate orthopedic operations. “It was like part woodshop, part surgical suite,” Mwangi says. “The students loved it.”

The high school students got to practice casting (on each other) and suturing (that’s where the pigs’ feet came in). Those experiences were highlights for Lyric Lopez, a sophomore at John Marshall High School in Rochester, who has had her sights set on a medical career for as long as she can remember. “I’ve had a passion for helping people since I was little,” she tells us, adding “blood and guts don’t bother me.” (Ditto pigs’ feet.) The program made her “really interested” in orthopedics and engineering, specialties she hadn’t thought much about up to that point. “It was amazing, definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had,” she says.

Mwangi says that’s good news for Lyric — and also for the patients she may care for one day. “Diversity brings new ideas and new perspectives, and helps reduce health disparities,” he says. “At Mayo, we’re committed to creating a diverse workforce. Programs like this help plant seeds in students who may eventually come to Mayo for training and perhaps stay on as staff.”

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