Opening the door for women in trauma and orthopedics

08 March 2022

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on gender equality, globally and at home, wherever that may be. Shedding light on issues that need resolving, sooner rather than later, for societies to flourish. Violence against women, lack of access to services and education, lack of representation in government and countless industries, and pay inequity”“these are but some of the issues women face. We are reminded that while much work has been done in many countries, much more remains to be done everywhere else.

For the AO Alliance, this means opening access for women to train as trauma and orthopedic (T&O) surgeons in Sub-Saharan Africa, so that they may join a field that is grossly understaffed in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Globally, only six percent of T&O surgeons are women. This staggering gap in representation provides an opportunity to do better, to invest in women and remove some of the barriers they may face.

Two Gambian surgical trainees currently schooling at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi through an AO Alliance scholarship, Drs Fatoumatta Jaiteh (T&O Fellow) and Mariama Suso (T&O surgery resident), recall a common misconception around trauma and orthopedics: “It’s a fulfilling field. What people say about physical strength isn’t the case,” says Jaiteh. Suso agrees: “I think there is a lot of misconception that T&O is a purely male field or that one requires brute strength to be able to pursue a career in it. This is in fact not true. Women are in fact doing great things in the field of T&O.”

Jaiteh has some words for women who are on the fence about going into trauma and orthopedics: “Seeing the outcome after proper (fracture) management is exciting. Seeing the smile on people that your team managed and how they keep thanking you is amazing. You will see kids again at the clinic and you won’t even notice their deformity. This is what keeps me going. Following your dream with determination is what makes you a winner.”

All industries and fields stand to benefit from including women equally, after all they do make up half the human population. Increasing women’s access to T&O surgical training will inevitably increase the numbers of T&O surgeons in LMICs, which suffer a disproportionate amount of injury leading to 30 million musculoskeletal disabilities each year. Such numbers seem impossible to ignore, yet the burden of injury remains a silent epidemic costing billions in lost productivity and keeping families trapped in a cycle of poverty as they struggle to make ends meet while their breadwinners are incapacitated.

Jaiteh and Suso will return to the Gambia in 2024 and 2025, respectively, ready to take on the challenges of orthopedic trauma care in this small West African nation that has only three Gambian T&O surgeons for a population of 2.4 million.

Photo caption: Drs Mariama Suso (left) and Fatoumatta Jaiteh (right)