How Do Medical Students Perceive Diversity in Orthopaedic Surgery, and How Do Their Perceptions Change After an Orthopaedic Clinical Rotation?

Rafa Rahman, Bo Zhang, Casey Jo Humbyrd, Dawn LaPorte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: A diverse physician workforce improves the quality of care for all patients, and there is a need for greater diversity in orthopaedic surgery. It is important that medical students of diverse backgrounds be encouraged to pursue the specialty, but to do so, we must understand students' perceptions of diversity and inclusion in orthopaedics. We also currently lack knowledge about how participation in an orthopaedic clinical rotation might influence these perceptions. QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: (1) How do the perceptions of diversity and inclusion in orthopaedic surgery compare among medical students of different gender identities, races or ethnicities, and sexual orientations? (2) How do perceptions change after an orthopaedic clinical rotation among members of demographic groups who are not the majority in orthopaedics (that is, cis-gender women, underrepresented racial minorities, other racial minorities, and nonheterosexual people)? METHODS: We surveyed students from 27 US medical schools who had completed orthopaedic rotations. We asked about their demographic characteristics, rotation experience, perceptions of diversity and inclusion in orthopaedics, and personal views on specialty choice. Questions were derived from diversity, equity, and inclusion climate surveys used at major academic institutions. Cis-gender men and cis-gender women were defined as those who self-identified their gender as men or women, respectively, and were not transgender. Forty-five percent (59 of 131) of respondents were cis-men and 53% (70 of 131) were cis-women; 49% (64 of 131) were white, 20% (26 of 131) were of underrepresented racial minorities, and 31% (41 of 131) were of other races. Eighty-five percent (112 of 131) of respondents were heterosexual and 15% (19 of 131) reported having another sexual orientation. We compared prerotation and postrotation perceptions of diversity and inclusion between majority and nonmajority demographic groups for each demographic domain (for example, cis-men versus cis-women). We also compared prerotation to postrotation perceptions within each nonmajority demographic group. To identify potential confounding variables, we performed univariate analysis to compare student and rotation characteristics across the demographic groups, assessed using an alpha of 0.05. No potential confounders were identified. Statistical significance was assessed at a Bonferroni-adjusted alpha of 0.0125. Our estimated response percentage was 26%. To determine limitations of nonresponse bias, we compared all early versus late responders and found that for three survey questions, late responders had a more favorable perception of diversity in orthopaedic surgery, whereas for most questions, there was no difference. RESULTS: Before rotation, cis-women had lower agreement that diversity and inclusion are part of orthopaedic culture (mean score 0.96 ± 0.75) compared with cis-men (1.4 ± 1.1) (mean difference 0.48 [95% confidence interval 0.16 to 0.81]; p = 0.004), viewed orthopaedic surgery as less diverse (cis-women 0.71 ± 0.73 versus cis-men 1.2 ± 0.92; mean difference 0.49 [95% CI 0.20 to 0.78]; p = 0.001) and more sexist (cis-women 1.3 ± 0.92 versus cis-men 1.9 ± 1.2; mean difference 0.61 [95% CI 0.23 to 0.99]; p = 0.002), believed they would have to work harder than others to be valued equally (cis-women 2.8 ± 1.0 versus cis-men 1.9 ± 1.3; mean difference 0.87 [95% CI 0.45 to 1.3]; p < 0.001), and were less likely to pursue orthopaedic surgery (cis-women 1.4 ± 1.4 versus cis-men 2.6 ± 1.1; mean difference 1.2 [95% CI 0.76 to 1.6]; p < 0.001). Before rotation, underrepresented minorities had less agreement that diversity and inclusion are part of orthopaedic surgery culture (0.73 ± 0.72) compared with white students (1.5 ± 0.97) (mean difference 0.72 [95% CI 0.35 to 1.1]; p < 0.001). Many of these differences between nonmajority and majority demographic groups ceased to exist after rotation. Compared with their own prerotation beliefs, after rotation, cis-women believed more that diversity and inclusion are part of orthopaedic surgery culture (prerotation mean score 0.96 ± 0.75 versus postrotation mean score 1.2 ± 0.96; mean difference 0.60 [95% CI 0.22 to 0.98]; p = 0.002) and that orthopaedic surgery is friendlier (prerotation 2.3 ± 1.2 versus postrotation 2.6 ± 1.1; mean difference 0.41 [95% CI 0.14 to 0.69]; p = 0.004), more diverse (prerotation 0.71 ± 0.73 versus postrotation 1.0 ± 0.89; mean difference 0.28 [95% CI 0.08 to 0.49]; p = 0.007), less sexist (prerotation 1.3 ± 0.92 versus postrotation 1.9 ± 1.0; mean difference 0.63 [95% CI 0.40 to 0.85]; p < 0.001), less homophobic (prerotation 2.1 ± 1.0 versus postrotation 2.4 ± 0.97; mean difference 0.27 [95% CI 0.062 to 0.47]; p = 0.011), and less racist (prerotation 2.3 ± 1.1 versus postrotation 2.5 ± 1.1; mean difference 0.28 [95% CI 0.099 to 0.47]; p = 0.003). Compared with before rotation, after rotation cis-women believed less that they would have to work harder than others to be valued equally on the rotation (prerotation 2.8 ± 1.0 versus postrotation 2.5 ± 1.0; mean difference 0.31 [95% CI 0.12 to 0.50]; p = 0.002), as did nonheterosexual students (prerotation 2.4 ± 1.4 versus postrotation 1.8 ± 1.3; mean difference 0.56 [95% 0.21 to 0.91]; p = 0.004). Underrepresented minority students saw orthopaedic surgery as less sexist after rotation compared with before rotation (prerotation 1.5 ± 1.1 versus postrotation 2.0 ± 1.1; mean difference 0.52 [95% CI 0.16 to 0.89]; p = 0.007). CONCLUSION: Even with an estimated 26% response percentage, we found that medical students of demographic backgrounds who are not the majority in orthopaedics generally perceived that orthopaedic surgery is less diverse and inclusive than do their counterparts in majority groups, but these views often change after a clinical orthopaedic rotation. CLINICAL RELEVANCE: These perceptions may be a barrier to diversification of the pool of medical student applicants to orthopaedics. However, participation in an orthopaedic surgery rotation is associated with mitigation of many of these negative perceptions among diverse students. Medical schools have a responsibility to develop a diverse workforce, and given our findings, schools should promote participation in a clinical orthopaedic rotation. Residency programs and orthopaedic organizations can also increase exposure to the field through the rotation and other means. Doing so may ultimately diversify the orthopaedic surgeon workforce and improve care for all orthopaedic patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-444
Number of pages11
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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