Xena Gray ’19 was selected to attend an annual program of the Perry Initiative, held at Duke University on April 13, designed to inspire young women to be leaders in the fields of orthopedic surgery and engineering.
Named in honor of Jacquelin Perry, a pioneering female orthopedic surgeon and a mentor to countless women and men in the field, the Perry Initiative offers programs across the country. Duke, which has a number of leading female orthopedic surgeons affiliated with the hospital and medical school, hosts a program each year.
The mission is an important one: According to the Perry Initiative’s website, women make up only 6.1% of fully accredited practicing orthopaedic surgeons, despite the increasing number of women entering medical and graduate school. Only 12.4% of the faculty at engineering schools are women, with that percentage being lower for mechanical engineering. As engineers and orthopaedic surgeons work hand-in-hand to develop safe and effective implants for repairing broken bones, torn ligaments and worn-out joints, the Perry Initiative sees strong partnerships between surgeons and engineers as essential for improving the performance of orthopaedic implants and creating solutions to unmet clinical needs.
The Perry Initiative’s integrative hands-on curriculum for middle and high school classrooms, called Orthopaedics In Action, was launched in 2015. Today, the Perry Initiative runs over 40 one-day outreach programs nationwide and has reached over 7500 high school, college, and medical students through over 260 outreach events. The program at Duke includes lectures and a hands-on Saw Bones Lab with bone models. Instruction is by women engineers and orthopaedic surgeons from Duke.
Jocelyn Wittstein, whose children Colin ’25 and Chloe Lassiter ’23 are enrolled in our Middle School, is one of the orthopedic surgeons involved in the program. She said the breadth of orthopedic subspecialties covered by women at Duke makes it a great fit for the Initiative’s goals.
“At Duke, we have myself and one other woman in the orthopaedic surgery subspecialty of sports medicine, as well as one other woman. We have one female hand surgeon, one female traumatologist, one female spine specialist, one female pediatric orthopedic specialist, and even one female orthopaedic oncology specialist,” she said. “By offering this educational opportunity to female high school and pre-med college students, we hope to inspire the next generation of female orthopaedic surgeons and increase our numbers within this field.”
Xena said she has been interested in bioengineering and orthopedic surgery since she was in middle school, and she has been heavily involved in STEM+ courses at Ravenscroft in preparation for studying the fields in college. Her knowledge of the field was enhanced by the hands-on activities offered at the Initiative and the mentors she met there.
Wittstein said she has enjoyed several opportunities to work with Ravens interested in her field.
“I have had Madison Taylor ’18 and Kayla Lucien ’18 shadow me in my sports medicine orthopaedic surgery clinic,” Wittstein said. “At the Perry Initiative last year in April 2018 I had the opportunity to instruct Sydney Schiff ’18 as well.”
Read more about the importance of female mentorship for girls and young women interested in STEM field as part of the cover story from the Spring 2019 Ravenscroft Magazine, “Spheres of Influence,” including a video featuring Xena and other female Upper School students talking to Middle School girls about opportunities for STEM exploration at Ravenscroft.
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