Perry Initiative bridges the gap

by Dayne Urbanovsky, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation | November 29, 2017

UNMC's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) joined forces Nov. 18 to inspire young women to pursue careers in the male-dominated fields of orthopaedic surgery and engineering.

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Susan Scherl, M.D., at left, professor of orthopaedic surgery, guides participants through hands-on modules.
Nearly 40 young women from area high schools attended the day-long Perry Outreach Program at UNO's Biomechanics Research Building, where they performed mock orthopaedic surgeries, conducted biomechanical engineering experiments and heard from prominent female engineers and surgeons in the field.

Participants learned to suture using pig's feet, performed a knee arthroscopy on replicas of human bones and gained hands-on experience in simple and complex fracture repair with plates and intramedullary nails.

"It is a fun-filled educational day of speakers and hands-on modules where the girls get to use saws, drills, screws and get a glimpse into what orthopaedic surgery is like," said Maegen Wallace, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at UNMC.

Founded in 2009, the Perry Initiative was named in honor of Dr. Jacquelin Perry, one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons in the country. This is the fourth year UNMC has been involved with the Perry Outreach Program, which partners with medical centers and universities to hold events at more than 30 locations nationwide each year.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, women account for only 5 percent of U.S. orthopaedic surgeons. Similarly, women make up just 13 percent of mechanical engineering bachelor's degrees awarded in the country. The Perry Initiative aims to bridge the gap in these fields and offer support to young women considering STEM careers.

"It's great to see how engaged they become while performing their operations," said Susan Scherl, M.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery at UNMC. "The hope is that the program will open their eyes to the possibility of a career in orthopaedics or biomechanical engineering in particular, but also medicine and the STEM fields in general."

Along with surgical simulations, the event also provided inspiration from women active in Omaha's medical community. Drs. Scherl and Wallace shared insights into the education and work-life balance as orthopaedic surgeons and the importance of mentorship. Volunteers from UNMC, Children's Hospital and UNO guided participants through the modules and hosted an afternoon Q&A session.

"This is truly a way to engage young women into the broader STEM fields," said Amelia Lanier, Ph.D., outreach coordinator for the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence at UNO. "Our event is part of a national effort that provides opportunities that these girls just aren't going to get otherwise."


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Anne Lawlor
November 29, 2017 at 9:14 AM

What a wonderful initiative! Congratulations to all involved - and thank you for encouraging the next generation of female surgeons and engineers!