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The Perry Initiative Inspires Young Women to Pursue Careers in Orthopedic Surgery

Dr. Friel working with group of four students

Orthopedic surgeon and Medical Director of Sports Medicine Nicole Friel, M.D., works with students during The Perry Initiative.

Female orthopedic surgeons and residents from Shriners Children’s Northern California recently led a hands-on workshop for aspiring teenage girls with an interest in medicine and engineering. Led by orthopedic surgeon Holly Leshikar, M.D., the workshop was part of The Perry Initiative, a Shriners Children’s sponsored program designed to encourage and empower young women to pursue careers in orthopedic surgery and engineering.

Medical students and 38 teenage girls from Sacramento and Bay Area high schools participated in the two-day program. The students spent time working with orthopedic surgeons Candice McDaniel, M.D., Amanda Whitaker, M.D., Nicole Friel, M.D., and orthopedic surgeon residents Lydia McKeithan M.D., Kelsey Millar, M.D., and Shea Ray, M.D. The Shriners Children’s team was also joined by UC Davis Health medical staff. They all guided students through a series of hands-on exercises, including fracture repair using plates and screws, practicing sutures, spinal fusion for scoliosis, rotator cuff repair, external fixation and knee ligament reconstruction.

Michelle James, M.D., chief of orthopedics at Shriners Children’s Northern California, was an early advocate of The Perry Initiative. She recognized that while women make up half of all medical students, only a small percentage decide to pursue orthopedics and wanted to help increase that figure.

“The Perry Initiative workshops have shown thousands of girls that orthopedic surgery and engineering are wonderful professions that are accessible to them,” said Dr. James. “I am very proud that our hospital offered one of the first workshops to high school students in 2010, and last weekend our staff participated for the tenth time. We continue to be a proud sponsor, upholding Shriners Children’s mission of teaching and training the next generation of medical professionals – especially aspiring female physicians.”

three students practicing their skills

High school students from Sacramento and the Bay Area practice their surgical skills.

Hands-on Experience

Hands-on experience for young women interested in orthopedic surgery is a rare and treasured opportunity.

“This was a really awesome opportunity,” said sophomore Rio Linda High School student Ivercey. “I’ve never participated in anything like this! My favorite activity was practicing surgical suturing.”

The Perry Initiative was founded in 2009 by Jenni Buckley, M.D., a mechanical engineer, and Lisa Lattanza, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon. They both worked together at the University of California, San Francisco. The program recognizes that strong partnerships between surgeons and engineers lead to improvements in orthopedic implants and solutions to unmet clinical needs. The Perry Initiative now coordinates more than 40 one-day outreach programs nationwide each year. Named in honor of Jacquelin Perry, M.D., one of the few female orthopedic surgeons in the country when she began her academic career in 1952, the Perry Initiative has reached over 10,000 female students in the United States.

“Despite the increasing number of women entering medical and graduate school, only a small percentage of fully accredited practicing orthopedic surgeons are women,” said Dr. Leshikar. “Our participation in programs like these shows other young women the options that are available to them and inspires them to consider careers in orthopedic surgery and engineering.”

large group of students displaying their certificates

The Perry Initiative students pose with their completion certificates.

The Perry Initiative 2022

Shriners Children's Northern California hosts a Perry Outreach Program every year, offering a one-day, hands-on career exploration for young women in high school who are interested in careers in orthopedic surgery, engineering or both.
View Transcript


Opening screen: Shriners Children's Northern California logo

Bottom third text layover: Michelle James, M.D., Chief of Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery

Michelle James, M.D.:

The Perry Initiative is a program designed by women orthopedic surgeons and engineers to introduce our specialties to girls in high school with hands-on activities that replicate a lot of the things we get to do each day. Our mission at Shriners Children's is three-pronged: clinical care, research, and teaching. And this really gets at the teaching component. Around 7% of board certified orthopedic surgeons are women. There's some evidence that women who get interested at a younger age in these fields are more likely to enter them. They learn the hands-on nature of engineering and orthopedics, and they get to connect the intellectual aspects of medicine, like problem-solving, with the actual actions that we take to solve problems.

In order for the girls to attend, there is no charge. The Shriners has sponsored this program for many years. We were one of the first hospitals to do that. I have in-depth feedback from one of our very first students who I'm still in touch with, who went on to go to medical school and is graduating soon and just matched for her top choice residency. So I've been able to follow her since high school, and she attributes the Perry Initiative with first letting her know that this was a possibility for her.

End screen: Shriners Children's Northern California logo

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