The Diversity Award recognizes members of the Academy who have distinguished themselves through their outstanding commitment to making orthopaedics more representative of, and accessible to, diverse patient populations. Dr. Simpson Mason, 44, is the youngest recipient of the AAOS Diversity Award.
Dr. Simpson Mason, an orthopaedic surgeon, is founder and executive director of Nth Dimensions Educational Solutions, Inc., a nonprofit organization that, in partnership with AAOS, develops and facilitates pipeline initiatives to diversify the future physician workforce in orthopaedics and other specialties. The organization’s goals are to increase diversity in medicine, decrease gender and health disparities, and promote the professional development of aspiring minority physicians in orthopaedic surgery. Participants gain early exposure and hands-on orthopaedic experience, including clinical and research opportunities, as well as mentoring and leadership development.
Dr. Simpson Mason received her medical degree from Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and completed a general surgical internship at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an orthopaedic residency at Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC. From 2001 to 2006, Dr. Simpson Mason was in clinical practice and served as chief financial officer at Grant Orthopaedic Bone and Joint Surgeons. A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis forced her to unexpectedly curtail the surgical and clinical practice of orthopaedics, while providing her with the opportunity to pursue her other passion: mentoring and helping young women and minority students to pursue careers in orthopaedic surgery. Relying on multiple skill sets, Dr. Simpson Mason adapted and reinvented her career path from that of a surgeon to an orthopaedic ambassador.
Nth Dimensions “was born out of my desire to expose women and minorities to orthopaedic surgery as a profession,” said Dr. Simpson Mason. She credits her parents and extended family for being “walking and living examples of tenacity, perseverance, community service and family unity,” and several professional mentors for helping her navigate a career in orthopaedics.
Dr. Simpson Mason’s mother, who has a degree in architecture, worked as a construction engineer. “It was not intimidating for me to go into orthopaedics, a predominately male field, as I saw my mother do it every day. If you can see someone like you being successful, you know you can do it yourself.”
“Dr. Simpson Mason works actively on a daily basis to promote diversity in the field of orthopaedic surgery,” said Rishi Balkissoon, MD, MPH, chief resident physician in the department of orthopaedic surgery at Johns Hopkins, and an Nth Dimension alum.
“The program directly exposed me to a network of orthopaedic surgeons of varying ethnic and gender minority groups, many of whom remain my close contacts today,” said Dr. Balkissoon. “Fundamental to her mission, and as a direct result of her organization, Dr. Simpson Mason has fostered the careers of a small army of diverse physicians who will naturally strive toward a goal of providing culturally competent care to the community and, hopefully, eliminate well-documented disparities in health care.”
Approximately 175 students have been Nth Dimensions/AAOS Orthopaedic Summer Interns since the program’s inception. In Dr. Simpson Mason’s estimation, close to one-third of all African-American orthopaedic residents have participated in at least one Nth Dimensions program. In 2012, Nth Dimensions scholars matched in orthopaedic residency programs at a rate of 75 percent.
In addition to providing greater opportunities for women and minority students, Dr. Simpson Mason says there’s a “business case” for expanding diversity in the physician workforce, as evidenced by the recent multi-million dollar investments in diversity and inclusion efforts by major U.S. corporations.
“The idea is that as we increase the number of physicians who reflect the U.S. population, we decrease health disparities and improve outcomes and, ultimately, lower the cost of care,” said Dr. Simpson Mason.
The Diversity Award “confirms for me that this is my role and purpose; to motivate young people to become orthopaedic surgeons. I would not have been able to do this if I were still in the operating room, which proves that we can be effective in developing the next generation of physician leaders both in and outside of the operating room. I am truly honored and humbled to be recognized by my peers.”
In addition to serving as executive director of Nth Dimensions, Dr. Simpson Mason also develops curricula and speaks nationally to women’s and physician groups on leadership, diversity, business of medicine and life integration topics. She also serves on various AAOS committees and board, including the Leadership Fellows Committee and the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society’s Membership Committee, and is the mentoring chair for the Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society. Dr. Simpson Mason is a clinical assistant professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and an adjunct professor of graduate medical education at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.
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