Effort to Draw Women Into Orthopedics Comes to UConn Health

From left: Medical students Kelly McKenna and Samantha Hill watch Dr. Katherine Coyner demonstrate the use of tools during a visit to UConn Health by the Perry Initiative, an outreach effort to expose young women to the fields of orthopedic surgery and engineering. (Photo by Kristin Wallace)
Dr. Katherine Coyner instructs Lyman Hall High School student Katelyn Miller at a hands-on workshop. (Photo provided by Katherine Coyner)

Thanks to a national outreach effort to draw prospective female physicians to orthopedic surgery, first-year medical student Kelly McKenna now wants to learn more about the field.

“I do have great interest in surgery, and so I am trying to explore the different surgical subspecialties,” says McKenna, one of 13 UConn medical students who took part in a visit to UConn Health by the Perry Initiative over the weekend.

Dr. Katherine Coyner, an orthopedic surgeon who joined UConn Health last year, organized the visit from the Perry Initiative, a nonprofit that originated in San Francisco in 2009 with the mission of inspiring young women to become leaders in orthopedic surgery and engineering. She serves on its board of directors.

“It was really exciting to see the girls so interested and engaged,” Coyner says. “We had a lot of volunteers who spanned different disciplines, so these students got all the perspectives. And with this mentoring program exposing them, they might realize orthopedic surgery as a potential career path.”

Women make up a disproportionate minority of orthopedic surgeons. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic surgeons, less than 15 percent of orthopedic surgery residents are women.

Dr. Lauren Geaney addresses UConn medical students during the Perry Initiative’s visit to UConn Health. (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

The Perry Initiative event at UConn Health included lectures, videos, panel discussions, and hands-on workshops Friday evening and all day Saturday. Coyner organized and facilitated, with help from Dr. Lauren Geaney, UConn Health foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Jamie Friedman, who’s in her fourth year in UConn Health’s orthopedic surgery residency program, plus other orthopedic surgery residents, sports medicine fellows, nurse practitioners and physical therapists.

“The Perry Initiative provided me with a great opportunity to interact with and learn from female orthopedic surgeons and residents here at UConn, and allowed me to participate in exciting mock orthopedic surgical procedures,” McKenna says. “I was also able to learn more about the path to becoming an orthopedic surgeon and about the different orthopedic subspecialties.”

Forty female students from Connecticut high schools also attended, including Adrinah Vaughn from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.”

“My favorite part was suturing and going inside the knee in the lab,” Vaughn says. “It was so inspiring because it gives you an inside look at what actual surgeons do; that goes beyond what I could learn from a textbook.”

Dr. Jamie Friedman, fourth-year orthopedic surgery resident, demonstrates drilling technique to medical students Emily Isch (left) and Michelle Duong (right). (Photo by Kristin Wallace)

The high school participants were chosen from 260 applicants.

“My favorite parts were the hands-on arthroscopy lab and talking to everyone in the professions, getting a real-life idea of what I can be doing,” says Katelyn Miller from Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford. “I appreciated the offer [from the orthopaedic surgeons] to let me shadow them to see if this is what I really want to do. This made me excited to go to school for a really long time!”

First-year medical student Julia Plourde says she chose UConn for its orthopedics program.

“The Perry Initiative really demonstrated the positive environment that orthopedics has, especially the mentorship available to foster the growth of women in orthopedics,” Plourde says. “The exposure that the Perry Initiative provided me certainly sealed the deal for me to continue on my path to orthopedics.”

Coyner, whose own path to orthopedic surgery predates the Perry Initiative, says the continuing mentorship the program offers is crucial to its success.

“They have ongoing mentorship at all different levels, so when these young women are medical students, they can call the residents and ask where they rotated or seek advice on getting into residency programs,” Coyner says. “It keeps going up the chain like that.”