Orthopaedic Surgery faculty member Khusboo Desai, MD, MS, explains a bone repair technique to a student during IU's Perry Initiative outreach event in 2023.
Mayah Simon needed an orthopaedic surgeon.
She was an injured high school athlete looking for help. And everywhere she looked, she found only male doctors when she preferred a female. It was frustrating and discouraging – and a little bit motivating.
Mayah was one of 40 female high school students who joined the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine for its inaugural Perry Initiative event in May.
She flew overnight from her hometown in New York state to join the department’s female faculty members – and girls her age from around Indiana and as far away as Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania – for a day full of education, empowerment and fun.
Fewer than 8 percent of the nation’s orthopaedic surgeons are women, but groups like The Perry Initiative work to boost that number by holding outreach programs across the country. During these events, female high school, college and medical students who are interested in science, engineering and medicine have the chance to interact and learn from female professionals in the fields they aspire to join.
Mayah’s experience struggling to find a female orthopaedic surgeon sparked her interest in medicine. She learned about The Perry Initiative and knew she wanted to participate.
Yes, there was an event closer to her home in New York, but she had conflicting plans and couldn’t attend, Mayah shared with the group while introducing herself and laughing about her long, late-night journey. IU’s event was the next available option, she said, and some family friends in Indianapolis opened their home for the night.
That Saturday morning, Mayah walked into a room full of strangers, but she left with a new group of friends who had shared an exciting experience.
The students who attended IU’s Perry event had the chance to practice sutures, casting and bone repairs. They spent the day interacting with, asking questions of, and learning from female surgeons, and they heard presentations about what to expect when attending medical school. Along the way, they laughed, snapped selfies and cheered each other on.
Erika Daley, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, spearheaded bringing Perry to IU. She’d participated in The Perry Initiative herself as an orthopaedic surgery resident, and it had a significant impact on her.
When she first proposed bringing the program to IU, Daley received overwhelming support from her female colleagues and the department’s female residents, many of whom were eager to volunteer because they had participated in The Perry Initiative themselves at one point.
The Perry Initiative was founded in 2009 by a mechanical engineer and an orthopaedic surgeon. Since then, the group has held more than 450 outreach events across the country and has reached more than 13,000 students.
In between drilling or sawing bone models and stitching up bananas, the high school students at IU’s event heard presentations from young, successful doctors and engineers.
IU second-year orthopaedic surgery resident Sarah Levey, MD, talked to the students about what to expect in medical school and residency, and about her own educational journey – which didn’t go as she’d originally planned.
When Levey wasn’t accepted to medical school on her first try, she took a gap year and worked as a scribe in a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon’s office. That position and the experiences she gained while working there were a great source of education that still serve her well today, she said.
She shared her story to point out that the paths to careers in medicine don’t have to be the same to be successful. She told the girls she was proud of her hard work and encouraged them not to abandon their goals, no matter how many challenges they might meet along the way.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...