Perry Initiative Provides Hands On Experience, Confidence For Girls Interested In Medicine


photo courtesy of Perry Initiative Outreach Program

Senior Lily Jones practices basic sutures on a cut on a pig’s foot as a part of the Perry Initiative.

Lily Jones, executive editor

Before a few weeks ago, the only female orthopedic surgeon I knew of was Callie Torres of Grey’s Anatomy.

In November, about 30 other high school girls from around the state and I spent the day at the UAMS Jackson T. Stephens Spine Center, with the Perry Initiative. After consistent nagging from my mother, I applied for the program.

The Perry Initiative Outreach Program is a one-day outreach program that educates high school girls about the fields of orthopedic surgery and engineering. The program website states: “Despite the increasing number of women entering medical and graduate school, women make up only 6.1 percent of fully accredited practicing orthopedic surgeons according to 2014 survey by American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Only 12.4 percent of the faculty at engineering schools are women, with that percentage being lower for mechanical engineering.”

The program instructors included local female orthopedic surgeons from UAMS and Arkansas Specialty Orthopedics, and coordinators from Connecticut. There were presentations discussing how to juggle a family and actual life while being an orthopedic surgeon. Other programs covered the typical day in an operating room and hospital. We were also informed on how engineering can fit into medicine.

However, the fun parts were the six ’surgeries’ we completed in small groups. In the morning, we learned how to suture on a pig’s foot, applied casts to each other’s arms, and learned the different kind of fractures on bones and sawed through fake ones.

In the afternoon, we learned about more complex issues specific to orthopedics. Spine surgeon Dr. Kathryn McCarthy taught us about the repairs for scoliosis and let us practice drilling the bolts into a fake spine. We also completed an external fixation on our wooden femurs. We were given the tools, a drill and many rods and bolts, and were expected to create and construct it on our own. Finally, we mimicked a knee repair, replacing Velcro ligaments with a crochet needle.

I never knew how important construction was to medicine. I had a power drill in my hand and safety goggles on for half of the day, while I was breaking or repairing wooden bones.

Overall, this was a great program. The Perry Initiative was not only a boost for my college applications, or a way that allowed me to meet girls from across the state, but it also gave an inside look into an orthopedic surgeon’s life. Instead of the typical “med school is hard and impossible to get into” feeling health programs normally propogate, the Perry Initiative was inspiring. Although a HUGE majority of orthopedic surgeons and engineers are male, this program made me feel as if this is a possible career field for me. Next fall, I would urge all Central girls interested in going into medicine or engineering to apply.

This program made me excited for a future career in medicine, but we’ll see how I feel when there is actually blood involved.