On July 26, 2020, a group of Black women orthopaedic surgeons held a virtual call. The purpose of the call was simple- to empower each other as Black Women, celebrate accomplishments, and “check-in.” Black women faced unique challenges in 2020. Tension and unrest reached a boiling point. The Coronavirus pandemic further compounded longstanding racial health inequities and social injustice.
Black women are rare (0.6%) in the field of orthopaedic surgery in the United States. The 2018 AAOS Orthopaedic Census Survey reports that over 30,000 orthopaedic surgeons in the United States are overwhelmingly male (94%) and white (85%). As part of the 0.6%, Black Women lacked a space to celebrate & discuss their experiences in orthopaedic surgery. The July 2020 virtual call provided that vital setting for Black women orthopaedic surgeons. The demand for monthly meetings and programming led to the non-profit organization – Black Women Orthopaedic Surgeons (BWOS).
The History of Black Women in Orthopaedic Surgery
Dr. Claudia L. Thomas became the first board-certified Black female orthopaedic surgeon in the United States in 1982. The Queens native, is a graduate of the famous High School of Music and Art in New York City. In 1969, Dr Thomas and 33 other Black female students occupied the Main Building at Vassar College. They demanded institutional commitment and annual funding for the Black Studies Department and won. In 1971, Dr. Thomas graduated from Vassar as a Black Studies major with honors. Following medical school at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Thomas was the first African-American female trainee in the Yale Orthopaedic Surgery Program. She finished a trauma and spine fellowship at the University of Maryland/Shock Trauma.
Dr. Thomas then joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Through her leadership, the orthopaedic training program increased the proportion of female residents to 20% and black residents to 32%. The 2008 AAOS Diversity Award recipient continues to mentor students of many ages. She now practices with Tri-County Orthopaedics in Leesburg, Florida.
To learn more about Dr. Thomas we recommend her book – God Spare Life.
The First Black Women Orthopaedic Surgeons in the United States