MAYWOOD, Ill. — Loyola University Health System is a leader in the effort to increase the number of female orthopaedic surgeons.
At Loyola, 20 percent of orthopaedic faculty and 16 percent of orthopaedic residents are women. And at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, six of the 11 fourth-year students applying for orthopaedic residencies are women. Among podiatrists, two of the five attending and two of the seven residents are women.
By comparison, just 3.9 percent of academy fellows and 13.8 percent of orthopaedic residents are women, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The academy is working to attract more women to the specialty by placing advertisements in medical student publications and sponsoring booths at medical student meetings.
“Having more women on our faculty and in our residency allows us to attract the most talented individuals to our specialty, regardless of gender,” said Terry Light, MD, chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation. “Having different perspectives among our faculty, residents and students enriches all of us.”
Loyola orthopaedic surgeon Karen Wu, MD, specializes in adult hip and knee reconstructions, which are among the most physically demanding surgeries.
But in contrast to the stereotype of the big, brawny orthopaedic surgeon, Wu is just 5 feet 4 and weighs 120 pounds.
“I don’t have huge muscles,” Dr. Wu said. “But it’s not really about brute strength. It’s knowing how to work smart. I have never been in a situation where, physically, I couldn’t do something.”
Dr. Wu recalls that during her fellowship, she was asked to reduce a dislocated hip in a large woman. Dr. Wu was the first woman to do the Aufranc fellowship in hip and knee reconstruction at New England Baptist Hospital, and her colleagues were curious to see whether a woman was up to the task.
Dr. Wu accomplished the reduction on her first attempt.
The notion that women lack the strength for orthopaedic surgery is among the reasons why the field traditionally has attracted so few females. But orthopaedic surgeons such as Dr. Wu and her colleague, Teresa Cappello, MD, say they don’t have to rely on their muscles. They work with power tools, utilize assistants when needed and focus on proper technique.
“If you have to use brute force, you’re not doing it the right way,” Dr. Cappello said.
Drs. Wu and Cappello are assistant professors in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. A third female orthopaedic surgeon, Erika Mitchell, MD, will join the faculty in November. Dr. Mitchell was recruited from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her special interests include pelvic/acetabular trauma and polytrauma. Dr. Cappello is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and her special interests include lower extremity deformities, including clubfeet, leg length discrepancy and hip dysplasia.
Dr. Wu decided to become a surgeon because she likes to work with her hands, and her interest in sports led her to orthopaedics. She has participated in several team and individual sports since early childhood, including sailing at the University of Michigan. Dr. Wu was first exposed to orthopaedics at age 13, when she suffered a distal radius fracture while skiing. Many of her friends also had athletic injuries.
Dr. Wu said orthopaedics appealed to her “because the goal of the field is to keep people active.”
Dr. Wu said her gender never made her feel less welcome at Loyola. She recalled that when she had her first interview with Dr. Light, she was six months’ pregnant. Dr. Light said she could delay her start time to take maternity leave.
Dr. Cappello said that from an early age, her father strongly encouraged her to become a physician. She did not hesitate to enter a traditionally male-dominated specialty.
“My dad told me I could do anything a boy could do,” Dr. Cappello said. “It never occurred to me that any door would be closed to me because I’m a woman.”
Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, Loyola University Health System is a quaternary-care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Loyola Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and 25 primary- and specialty-care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus, Loyola University Hospital, is a 569-licensed-bed facility. It houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn & Trauma Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. The Loyola Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 274-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness and Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Care Center.
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Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine is located in a state-of-the-art educational facility on the campus of Loyola University Medical Center, 2160 S. First Ave., Maywood. The school, which provides instruction to 520 medical students, has been in the vanguard of institutions that have created new, active learning curricula to help students meet the challenges of 21st century health care. An estimated 8,000 to 9,000 students compete each year for 130 openings in the Stritch medical school’s first-year class. In addition to the more than 500 students, Loyola’s medical educational programs provide instruction and training to an estimated 400 residents and 100 fellows.