Perception of Racial and Intersectional Discrimination in the Workplace Is High Among Black Orthopaedic Surgeons: Results of a Survey of 274 Black Orthopaedic Surgeons in Practice : JAAOS - Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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Perception of Racial and Intersectional Discrimination in the Workplace Is High Among Black Orthopaedic Surgeons: Results of a Survey of 274 Black Orthopaedic Surgeons in Practice

Ode, Gabriella E. MD; Brooks, Jaysson T. MD; Middleton, Kellie K. MD; Carson, Eric W. MD; Porter, Scott E. MD, MBA

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Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 30(1):p 7-18, January 1, 2022. | DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-20-01305
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Blacks remain underrepresented in medicine, accounting for only 6% of medical school graduates, 4.4% of active medical residents, and 3.6% of faculty in US medical schools according to the data published by the Association American for Medical Colleges.1 According to the 2018 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) census, there are only approximately 573 practicing Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States, representing 1.9% of all practicing orthopaedic surgeons.2 By contrast, Blacks make up 13.4% of the US population.3 The effects of racial underrepresentation in orthopaedic surgery and the larger field of medicine are undoubtedly consequential. Within orthopaedics, the past literature has focused on quantifying the lack of diversity within the field, but few studies have evaluated its culture of inclusion and equity by surveying an underrepresented cohort within orthopaedic surgery. The purpose of this study was to describe the workplace environment and the extent of perceived occupational opportunity and workplace discrimination experienced by Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States. The authors hypothesized that (1) characteristics of practices among Black orthopaedic surgeons would be similar to most U.S. orthopaedic surgeons; (2) most of the Black orthopaedic surgeons would report experiencing racial microaggressions and perceive low occupational opportunity in the orthopaedic workplace; and (3) there would be differences in frequency of racial microaggressions, and perceptions of occupational discrimination and occupational opportunity among Black orthopaedic surgeons when compared by sex.


Between July 1 and September 1, 2020, a 38-item, anonymous survey was distributed electronically to 455 orthopaedic surgeons practicing within the United States, who self-identify as Black (the term which encompasses African American, Caribbean-American, Black African, and Black). These individuals were identified using the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society (JRGOS) e-mail database. JRGOS is a multicultural orthopaedic organization whose mission includes increasing diversity within the profession. The survey solicited perspectives on race and racial discrimination in current orthopaedic practice and general views regarding overall perceived occupational opportunity and discrimination for Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States. In addition, respondents were asked questions designed to categorize experiences with racial microaggressions.4,5 Respondents then completed the 16-item Perceived Occupational Opportunity Scale (POOS) and the single-item Perceived Occupational Discrimination Scale (PODS)—two valid and reliable measures of occupational discrimination specific to Black Americans.6 Scale items were modified for the occupation of orthopaedic surgery when appropriate. Respondents were also given the opportunity to provide comments about their experiences.

Survey data were collected and managed using Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap) hosted at Prisma Health, Greenville, SC.7 Incidences of different racial “microaggression” subtypes were quantified through descriptive analysis. The term “microaggression” was first described by Pierce8 in 1970 and later expanded by Sue et al4 in 2007 to describe “subtle snubs, slight, and insults directed toward minorities, women, and other historically stigmatized groups that implicitly communicate or, at least, engender hostility.” Sue et al categorized microaggressions into four types. Microassaults are intentional verbal or nonverbal attacks intended to offend the recipient.4 Microinsults are defined as subtle snubs or humiliations that include behaviors and statements that “convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person's racial heritage or identity.”4,5 Environmental microaggressions are defined as microaggressions occurring at a macrolevel that are reflected in the culture, processes, and climate of the workplace.5 Finally, microinvalidations consist of statements and behaviors, often subconscious, which “aim to exclude, negate, and dismiss the personal thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person.”4,5

POOS item scores range from 1 to 5, with higher mean scores indicating perception of better occupational opportunity for Black Americans. The PODS uses a four-point scale to rate the extent of discrimination against Black Americans in a given occupation. Higher PODS scores denote perceptions of more occupational discrimination. Mean scores on the POOS and PODS domains were compared by sex. Response frequency to the POOS and PODS domains was also reported. POOS item frequencies were combined into three categories—“agree or strongly agree,” “disagree or strongly disagree,” “neither agree nor disagree.” Finally, survey comments were reviewed for prominent themes and concepts.

This study was institutional review board exempt. Frequencies and descriptive statistics were reported. Mean POOS scores were compared between male and female respondents using an independent sample Student t-test, with a P value < 0.05 considered to be statistically significant. SPSS was used for all statistical analyses (IBM).



There were 274 self-identified Black orthopaedic surgeons who responded to the survey, yielding a 60% response rate. The most common age group was 40 to 49 years (29%), followed by 50 to 59 years (27%). Most respondents were male (215, 78.5%). There were 58 female respondents (21.2%), which accounts for a higher sex proportion than in the 2018 AAOS orthopaedic surgeon census (5.8%).2 Most of the respondents (222, 83.5%) were fellowship trained, also higher than the AAOS census (60%).2 The top three subspecialties were sports medicine (31.4%), total joint arthroplasty (19.7%), and hand/upper extremity (13.9%). The most common geographic location of practice was South (50.4%). Nearly half were in private practice (49.5%) compared with 58% in private practice reported in the AAOS census, whereas 18.6% described their practice as “academic practice” (salaried by an academic institution or private practice), compared with 18% reported in the AAOS census.2 Over 40% were in a practice affiliated with an orthopaedic residency program. Demographics and practice characteristics are further outlined in Table 1.

Table 1 - Demographics and Practice Characteristics of 274 Black Orthopaedic Surgeons
Category N (%) Category N (%)
Age group
69 (25.2)
80 (29.2)
74 (27)
36 (13.1)
15 (5.5)
Current practice typea
 Private practice—solo
 Private practice—orthopaedic group
 Private practice—multispecialty group
 Academic practice (academic institution)
 Academic practice (private practice employed)
 Hospital/Medical Center
 Military practice
 Public institution
 Prepaid plan/HMO
 Locum tenens
35 (13.2)
68 (25.7)
19 (7.2)
42 (15.8)
9 (3.4)
68 (25.7)
1 (0.4)
2 (0.8)
7 (2.6)
7 (2.6)
7 (2.6)
 Declined to answer
215 (78.5)
58 (21.2)
1 (0.4)
Geographic locationa (n = 266)
 Northeast-NE (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT)
 Northeast-MA (NY, NJ, PA)
 South-SA (DE, MD, DC, VA, WV, NC, SC, GA, FL)
 South-ESC (KY, TN, AL, MS)
 South-WSC (AR, LA, OK, TX)
 Midwest-ENC (OH, MI, IN, IL, WI)
 Midwest-WNC (MN, IA, MO, ND, SD, NE, KS)
 West-MT (WY, MT, CO, NM, ID, UT, AZ, NV)
 West-PA (WA, OR, CA, AK, HI)
10 (3.8)
37 (13.9)
85 (32)
11 (4.1)
38 (14.3)
34 (12.8)
11 (4.1)
8 (3.0)
28 (10.5)
4 (1.5)
Affiliated with orthopaedic residency (n = 266)
108 (40.6)
158 (59.4)
National society membership
 Diversity related
 Subspecialty related
253 (92.3)
46 (16.8)
4 (1.5)138 (50.4)
17 (6.2)
4 (1.5)
47 (17.2)
35 (12.8)
28 (10.2)
30 (10.9)
23 (8.4)
30 (10.9)
14 (5.1)
12 (4.4)
16 (5.8)
13 (4.7)
6 (2.2)
7 (2.6)
5 (1.8)
Degree of specializationa (n = 266)
 Specialist (fellowship-trained)
 General orthopaedic surgeon w/specialty interest
 General orthopaedic surgeon
222 (83.5)
36 (13.5)
8 (2.9)
Subspecialty interest
 Adult reconstruction
 Foot and ankle
 Hand and upper extremity
 Pediatric orthopaedics
 Shoulder and elbow
 Sports medicine
54 (19.7)
17 (6.2)
38 (13.9)
7 (2.6)
20 (7.3)
18 (6.6)
34 (12.4)
86 (31.4)
32 (11.7)
10 (3.6)
ENC = East North Central, ESC = East South Central; MA = Mid-Atlantic; MT = Mountain; NE = New England; PA = Pacific; SA = South Atlantic; WNC = West North Central; WSC = West South Central
aBased on AAOS Orthopaedic Surgeon 2018 census description.

Racial Microaggressions in Orthopaedic Practice

Overall, 89% of respondents experienced racial microaggressions in the workplace (Figure 1). The most reported microaggressions were “microinsults,” such as being confused for a nonphysician medical staff such as a nurse or physician assistant (89%) or nonmedical staff such as janitorial or dietary services (74%). “Environmental microaggressions” were experienced by 58% of respondents. Overt discriminatory statements (“microassaults”) were reported by 56% of respondents. Among all respondents, 47.1% experienced microassaults from patients and 32.3% experienced microassaults from other hospital staff including 23% reporting microassaults from peer surgeons. Microassaults from multiple sources were reported by 27.3% of all respondents. Black female orthopaedic surgeons reported higher rates of microaggressions (66% to 98%) than Black male orthopaedic surgeons (53% to 87%) across all four solicited questions.

Figure 1:
Bar graph reporting responses to the 16 items of the modified Perceived Occupational Opportunity Scale (POOS) and compared by sex. ¥POOS item scores range from 1 to 5, with higher scores denoting perceptions of a more open opportunity structure. *Denotes statistically significant difference (P < 0.05).

Perceived Occupational Opportunity Scale and Perceived Occupational Discrimination Scale

On the PODS item (n = 256), 97.6% of respondents felt that Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States face workplace discrimination, most of whom perceiving “some discrimination” (51.1%) followed by “a lot of discrimination” (27.7%). The PODS mean score was 3.02 ± 0.75 of a maximum score of 4. On the POOS, 71.1% felt that Black orthopaedic surgeons are discriminated against through hiring practices. Over 94% agreed that “racial discrimination in the workplace is a problem in the United States” (POOS item 6). However, less than 20% of respondents agreed that “the leaders of national orthopaedic organizations are trying sincerely to end racial discrimination in the workplace.” Although most of the respondents (74%) agreed that Black and White orthopaedic surgeons have good working relationships at their institution (74%), most Black orthopaedic surgeons (93% to 94%) also perceived inequalities in workplace opportunities compared with their White counterparts (POOS items 5 and 7). Responses on POOS and PODS items are reported in Table 2. When POOS means were compared by sex, Black female orthopaedic surgeons had lower mean scores (lower perceived occupational opportunity) than Black men on all 16 items. This difference was statistically significant on 9 of 16 items (Figure 2).

Table 2 - Results of Modified Perceived Occupational Opportunity Scale and Perceived Occupational Discrimination Scale Among Black Orthopaedic Surgeons (n = 257)
PODS Itema No Discrimination, N (%) A Little Discrimination, N (%) Some Discrimination N (%) A Lot of Discrimination N (%)
Overall, How Would You Rate the Extent of Occupational Discrimination Against Black Orthopaedic Surgeons? (n = 256) 6 (2.3) 49 (19.1) 131 (51.1%) 71 (27.7%)
POOS Itema Strongly Agree or Agree, N (%) Strongly Disagree or Disagree, N (%) Neither Agree nor Disagree, N (%)
1. Black orthopaedic surgeons are discriminated against through hiring practices (n = 256). 182 (71.1) 32 (12.5) 42 (16.4)
2. The leaders of national orthopaedic organizations are trying sincerely to end racial discrimination in the workplace. 50 (19.5) 126 (49.0) 81 (31.5)
3. Employers go out of their way to make Black orthopaedic surgeons feel welcome. 16 (6.2) 157 (61.1) 84 (32.7)
4. Black orthopaedic surgeons are given respect from White orthopaedic surgeons and supervisors. 83 (32.3) 106 (41.2) 68 (26.5)
5. It is just as hard for White orthopaedic surgeons to get ahead as it is for Black orthopaedic surgeons. 5 (1.9) 239 (93.0) 13 (5.1)
6. Racial discrimination in the workplace is a problem in the United States 242 (94.2) 13 (5.1) 2 (0.8)
7. It is easier for White orthopaedic surgeons to get ahead than Black orthopaedic surgeons. 242 (94.2) 3 (1.2) 12 (4.7)
8. Black orthopaedic surgeons get respect and support from their supervisors. 82 (31.9) 71 (27.6) 104 (40.5)
9. Personnel decisions are primarily based on orthopaedic surgeons' training and experience rather than race. 67 (26.1) 96 (37.4) 94 (36.6)
10. Managers promote cooperation between Black orthopaedic surgeons and other racial/ethnic groups. 49 (19.1) 76 (29.6) 132 (51.4)
11. Black orthopaedic surgeons have little say in decisions that affect the functioning of their organization/place of employment. 99 (38.5) 84 (32.7) 74 (28.8)
12. There is an understanding and acceptance of cultural differences among orthopaedic surgeons of different racial/ethnic groups at my institution. 81 (31.5) 126 (49.0) 50 (19.50)
13. Non-Black orthopaedic surgeons go out of their way to make Black orthopaedic surgeons feel welcome at my institution. 47 (18.3) 131 (51.0) 79 (30.7)
POOS Itema Strongly Agree or Agree, N (%) Strongly Disagree or Disagree, N (%) Neither Agree nor Disagree, N (%)
14. Extensive changes have been made to make services (resources) available to black orthopaedic surgeons at my institution. 18 (7.0) 162 (63.0) 77 (30.0)
15. Black and White orthopaedic surgeons have good working relationships at my institution. 192 (74.7) 20 (7.8) 45 (17.5)
16. Race determines who gets the most desirable work or assignments at my institution. 45 (17.5) 127 (49.4) 85 (33.1)
aSpecific modifications to the POOS and PODS are italicized for each item.

Figure 2:
Bar graph showing the number of respondents who indicted yes to specific questions alluding to racial microaggression experiences in the orthopaedic workplace. Report responses by sex and among all respondents.

Thematic Analysis of Respondent Comments

A thematic summary of respondent comments is found in Table 3. Several respondents described orthopaedic surgery as a noninclusive specialty, which contributes to challenges faced as it relates to leadership, professional advancement, and networking opportunities. Respondents noted that the lack of inclusion contributed to diminished opportunity through hiring practices and subsequent practice development. Subtle and systemic discrimination was a common refrain, including greater prevalence of microaggressions over overt discrimination and lack of awareness or denial of existence of discrimination by occupational leadership. Intersectional discrimination was described by several Black female respondents who noted that it was difficult or too complex to differentiate between their experiences with race and sex discrimination.

Table 3 - Thematic Analysis of Comments Provided by Survey Respondents
Theme 1: Lack of Inclusion by Nonminority Physicians and Leadership Affects Ability to Network, Hiring Practices, and Professional Advancement
“I think the most significant problem is the lack of advancement into leadership roles due to never really becoming a part of the “inner circle” early in your career.”
“Professional advancement is strongly influenced by your network or contacts and “who you know”…That puts African Americans at an immediate disadvantage, by virtue of how few of us there are in the profession, putting the best jobs and professional opportunities out of reach.”
“At the subspecialty level, many of the opportunities to move ahead in your discipline are dictated by your ability to network. Those networks are difficulty to penetrate unless there is a champion who advocates for the junior faculty.”
“There is a certain inside track that we are not privy to when searching for employment and thus we are not given the opportunities to even apply for those positions.”
“Usually more experienced doctors will help ‟feed” younger partners in the beginning. I'm in a large practice with very few underrepresented minorities. Over the years, I've observed a very slow response to develop the practice of minority physicians. This is confirmed when new nonminority physicians are welcomed with ample resources, patient reallocation, OR time allotment, invitation for committee positions, etc. Though not overtly obvious, it is the reason why it's hard not to check “a lot” of discrimination although the larger physician world remains oblivious to this blatant maneuvering.”
“When coming out of fellowship, I felt that there were minimal academic opportunities. I elected to go into private practice. I found limitations there as well. Some felt that I wasn't a ‟good fit” for their patient population.”
“Access to opportunities is often a reflection of who the power structure is comfortable with, which is more than likely those who look like them.”
“I do feel that my workplace, and most workplaces I am aware of, need to work on better inclusion and mentorship, particularly when I was a more junior faculty member. Even now my institution is more enthusiastic in promoting/awarding nonminority faculty.”
“I started my own practice after working five years as a minority employee in an orthopaedic private practice. The decision to start my own practice was related to perceived discrimination and perceived inability to reach my full potential in groups or practices where there was Caucasian leadership. I have definitely felt discrimination throughout my career, especially starting off. However, I feel that I have been better able to maximize my potential by eliminating racial bias within the confines of our private practice. [This] has helped create more ownership opportunities for me. These ownership opportunities did not and would not have existed as a minority employee.”
Theme 2: Racial Discrimination Is Experienced as Subtle and Systemic Rather Than Overt
“Occupational discrimination is very subtle, but it lines every phase of education and our careers.”
“There is still systemic racism ie, sometimes more subtle but just as significant, if not more so, in the careers of black orthopaedic surgeons.”
“I do feel that in orthopaedics and medicine there is a lot of unconscious and conscious bias. This affects how physicians of color are treated by colleagues and staff as well as how our patients of color are treated.”
“Discrimination at this level can be very hard to detect unless someone looking out for your well-being is honest about what is goes on.”
“Referral patterns are also impacted by race.”
“Referral bias is a big problem. If the patient is poor, hard to deal with or with multiple comorbidities or prior complications, it will be sent to a minority orthopaedic surgeon.”
“The most difficult aspect of my life was to be silent while racial injustice continues, a requirement in order to fulfil my career goals. It has undermined my achievements.”
“I try to forget negative experiences encountered as a black surgeon; memories bring up stressful feelings that I don't have time for as I'm constantly striving to be the best surgeon for my patients while regularly working to overcome subtle discrimination and racial biases in the workplace.”
“Non-Black people often disregard how Blackness affects any-and-all decisions and actions both subconsciously and consciously. The idea of trying to be “color-blind” contributes to muting our experiences. My entire existence is affected by my Blackness.”
“There is a difference between diversity and inclusion. We need both. We also need to acknowledge general racial bias in medicine as a whole. All of these issues are intertwined.
Theme 3: Discrimination Due to Both Race Versus Sex (Intersectional Discrimination) Experienced by Black Female Orthopaedic Surgeons
“For Black female orthopaedic surgeons, race versus sex discrimination can be difficult to differentiate.”
“It takes more effort overall for me to show up to work as a Black female orthopaedic surgeon compared with my other colleagues because you are not just trying to do your job, but you are also trying to combat assumptions made about you.”
“[White residents] were looked at in a different way. As a female, that was even more obvious. Not only did I experience being the only black female orthopaedic resident ever at my program, I was not viewed as equal. This continues to be a challenge even in my current workplace.”
“I definitely do not see as much discrimination since starting solo practice. Microaggressions and racial discrimination were more of an issue with prior practices. I also believe sex plays a major role in discrimination as well.”
I was never so acutely aware of my existence in society as a Black woman until I became an orthopaedic surgeon. Much of this is a by-product of having to be the ‟first” and/or ‟only” in many spaces–in residency, in fellowship, in my practice, in my state. Sometimes I am proud of this identity–out of necessity, I've perpetually aimed to not only be as good, but better than my White colleagues (male and female) and my black male colleagues. Other times–it's exhausting. Being a race AND gender ambassador in orthopaedic surgery is exhausting. No one outside of this identity can truly relate. I live under the assumption that peers, patients and staff, who do not know me well, harbor preconceived negative stereotypes of Black women. I have to put conscious effort into refuting those stereotypes. At times, that has meant not standing up for myself when I was not treated fairly, so as to not to be perceived as “difficult.” I believe that has hindered my professional advancement in different situations.


This study is the first to survey and report the collective experiences of practicing Black surgeons, specifically Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States. There is a lack of comparative literature evaluating the extent of discrimination perceived by underrepresented populations in orthopaedics and much supporting literature regarding discrimination in surgery is evaluated in residency populations. Although this study does not compare reported racial discrimination against other races, the results are concordant with a recent survey of 5,679 surgical residents, which reported high rates of racial discrimination among Blacks in surgical fields.9 In the current study, specific questioning regarding the prevalence of discrimination in orthopaedic practice found that most respondents reported various types of racial microaggressions in the workplace including microassaults, microinsults, and environmental discrimination.

Measuring Occupational Discrimination

On a standardized metric assessing occupational discrimination and opportunity among Black Americans, most Black orthopaedic surgeons believed that Black orthopaedic surgeons in the United States face workplace discrimination (97.6%), that there is discrimination against Black orthopaedic surgeons through hiring practices (71%), and that “it is easier for White orthopaedic surgeons to get ahead than Black orthopaedic surgeons” (94%). Only 19.5% of Black orthopaedic surgeons agreed or strongly agreed that leaders of national orthopaedic organizations are sincerely trying to end racial discrimination in the workplace. By contrast, almost 75% of respondents felt that Black and White orthopaedic surgeons have good working relationships at their institution. This discrepancy between interpersonal and institutional discrimination may point to the nuanced differences in how racial discrimination is faced by Black orthopaedic surgeons. Overt racial discrimination faced by Black orthopaedic surgeons from their peers may be less prevalent (as noted by the 23% of Black orthopaedic surgeons who reported experiencing microassaults by peer surgeons), but systemic racial bias and discrimination experienced in the workplace are described as pervasive. The high prevalence of microinsults (89%), environmental microaggressions (58%), the perception of inequity in hiring practices, career advancement, and sincerity of actions addressing racial discrimination by orthopaedic and institutional leadership noted in POOS and PODS questions as well as the thematic analysis of comments noting racial discrimination as systemic and subtle, all speak to the perception of systemic racial bias experienced by Black orthopaedic surgeons in the orthopaedic workplace.

There are very few psychometrically validated instruments that have been used to capture these feelings in an objective tool.10-12 Burkard et al13 evaluated the POOS/PODS and found that it was the only measure that was specifically designed to assess Black Americans' perceptions of discrimination and opportunity in the workplace, and it did so with moderate-to-strong internal consistency. In the initial validation study of the POOS/PODS by Chung and Harmon,6 231 Black college students were asked to rate the occupational discrimination that they perceived was experienced by Black Americans in 26 different occupations. From these external perspectives, medicine had the highest perception of occupational discrimination among all 26 rated occupations (PODS of 3.16). In the current study, the PODS was used by respondents within the profession of orthopaedics to rate the extent of racial discrimination experienced by Blacks within the field. From an internal perspective, perceived racial discrimination was not substantially better than external perceptions in the initial study. Historical comparison with the 26 occupations queried in the initial study demonstrates that perceived occupational discrimination among Black orthopaedic surgeons (PODS of 3.02) is worse than 22 other occupations, including barber (1.50), bus driver (1.67), social worker (2.04), and firefighter (2.31).6 This is the first study to use a validated and reliable measure to assess workplace discrimination among a specific cohort of Black physicians. Additional research is needed to determine whether the PODS and POOS can be generalized to other Black physician cohorts.

Effect of Intersectional Discrimination

An important finding of our survey was that the effect of being both a racial and sex minority in orthopaedic surgery carried measurable consequences. There was a consistent and often, statistically significant, trend toward greater workplace discrimination and diminished occupational opportunity in orthopaedics perceived by Black women compared with Black men. Again, when comparing our results with those in other surgical specialties, the combination of female sex and minority status is shown to negatively affect the training experience of general surgery residents.14 This should come as no surprise, given the findings suggested by a recent cross-sectional national survey of 7,409 general surgery residents, which reported that 17% of respondents reported racial discrimination but nearly double (32%) reported sex discrimination.15 Moreover, Samora et al16 recently investigated microaggressions among female orthopaedic surgeons and found that over 92% of respondents had experienced some form of microaggressions in residency or practice.

The term “intersectionality” was first coined by Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how the exclusion of women of color from prominence in both feminist movements and civil rights movements rendered their dual identities invisible. The current survey uncovered that Black female orthopaedic surgeons reported worse scores on all POOS and PODS items compared with Black men. This difference was statistically significant on 9 of 16 items, most notably on items involving perception of respect (items 4 and 8), institutional support (items 1, 14, and 16), cultural and social acceptance (items 12 and 15), and autonomy (item 11). Furthermore, Black women answered ‟yes” more frequently to the four questions alluding to experiences with racial microaggressions than Black men. The implications of the Black female orthopaedic surgeons' perception of a less inclusive and equitable work environment likely have dire consequences both to these women personally and to the field of orthopaedic surgery. Recent literature has explored the effect of intersectionality in academic science and clinical medicine.17-19 A study of workplace experiences in academic science found that women of color are more likely to feel unsafe in the workplace because of their sex 40% of the time and because of their race 28% of the time.20 Reports of feeling unsafe because of race occurred more frequently for women of color compared with men of color, White men, or White women.20 Women of color were also more likely to experience verbal racial harassment (compared with men of color and White men and White women) and equally as likely as White women to experience verbal sexual harassment.20 The reasons behind higher rates of discrimination among Black women, in particular, are complex. Social psychology studies have demonstrated that negative stereotyping of Black women leads to their perception as “loud, talkative, aggressive, domineering, and argumentative.”21,22 The effect that stereotyping has on perceptions of Black female orthopaedic surgeons by their patients, peers, and superiors is unclear but likely has a contributing role to a noninclusive workplace. Furthermore, the effect of negative stereotypes on Black women and the internal fear of personally confirming negative group-based stereotypes, known as “stereotype threat,” have psychological consequences on Black women. Stereotype threat has been shown to contribute to increased anxiety among Black women in healthcare settings, underperformance in stereotyped domains, and avoidance of situations where stereotypes may be relevant.23,24 Women who experience stereotype threat in the workplace are also less likely to recommend their field to other women.25 This ultimately may be a contributing factor to the continued lack of both racial and sex diversity within the field of orthopaedic surgery.

Role of National Organizations in Addressing Discrimination in the Workplace

The results of this study are timely. Survey responses were collected during July and August of 2020, which corresponded with a time of notable racial unrest in the United States. Most notably, most responses were collected after several national orthopaedic organizations released official statements denouncing racism and discrimination and declaring support for antiracism initiatives.26-28 However, less than 20% of black orthopaedic surgeons believed that national orthopaedic organizations are sincere in their efforts toward improving racial discrimination in the workplace, which speaks to a notable disconnect between the efforts by these organizations to entertain dialogue about racial and sex equality and the perception of those efforts by the cohorts they are trying to reach. To be clear, the authors are not questioning the sincerity of the efforts of orthopaedic organizations surrounding the topics of race and diversity. The results of this survey do suggest, however, that either these efforts are not being recognized or they are not being perceived in the manner in which they have been intended by an overwhelming majority of Black orthopaedic surgeons. The lack of trust in the sincerity of our governing bodies' attempts to address the widely held views of its Black constituents is not unique to orthopaedic surgery.29 The results of this study may serve as an important framework for healthcare leadership. It sheds a light on the skepticism that Black orthopaedic surgeons have in institutional initiatives aimed at at addressing discrimination. Acknowledging this distrust may be an essential step to stimulate greater transparency, humility, and discourse between healthcare leadership and Black orthopaedic surgeons. This framework should aim to continue to encourage and measure resultant changes in the perceptions of Black orthopaedic surgeons as diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts proceed within the field and within the larger medical community.

Strengths and Limitations

This study has several strengths. It is the first study to evaluate the workplace experiences of Black surgeons, specifically Black orthopaedic surgeons. Furthermore, it is the first to both quantify and qualify the experiences of racial discrimination faced in practice. We used a previously validated survey that evaluated the perception of occupational opportunity specific to Black Americans. In addition, we had a moderately high rate of return (60%) among survey respondents. It is also the first study to recount the experiences of intersectional discrimination within orthopaedic surgery, which is an area that needs additional acknowledgement and exploration.

Nonetheless, there are several limitations of this study, most notably, regarding our cohort sample. The study survey was distributed only to those who provided contact information within the JRGOS society e-mail database and who self-identified as Black. The study survey contacted 455 orthopaedic surgeons, which accounts for 79% of the AAOS census estimate of 573 Black orthopaedic surgeons in practice. Among this cohort, we achieved a respectable response rate of 60%. Black orthopaedic surgeons who did not have an available e-mail address, those who are not part of the JRGOS database, those of mixed-race who do not explicitly identify as ‟Black,” or those who declined to report race were not included. We cannot make assumptions about the workplace experiences of the 40% of orthopaedic surgeons who did not respond to the survey or the Black orthopaedic surgeons who did not receive the survey. There may be selection bias among those who did respond—meaning those who perceived racial discrimination in their practice could be more likely to speak out regarding their experiences and participate in this study. Alternatively, those who had a negative experience as a Black trainee or practicing surgeon or those who have stopped practicing orthopaedic surgery for unknown reasons (which may include discrimination) are also part of the unsampled cohort. One respondent commented, “I try to forget negative experiences encountered as a Black surgeon; memories bring up stressful feelings that I don't have time for….” It is possible that some surgeons declined to participate in the survey to avoid recounting experiences that had been distressing in the past. In addition, we did not evaluate in-depth the potential for geographic bias in the prevalence of discrimination among our cohort. Survey respondents were predominantly located in the South (50.4%) followed by Northeast (17.7%), Midwest (16.9%), and West (13.5%), which is similar to the geographic distribution of Black Americans reported in the 2010 US census (56.5% South, 17% Northeast, 17% Midwest, and 10% Northeast).30 A recent study of more than 10,000 non-Black Americans described regional differences in racial prejudice toward Black Americans. Different types of racial prejudices were most notable in South, Mountain and East North Central regions, but lower overall rates of prejudice were found in West and Northeast regions. Although determining geographic significance of racial discrimination among our small cohort fell out of the scope of this study, geographic bases of prejudices influencing the workplace environment experienced by Black orthopaedic surgeons may be present. Ultimately, we can only draw conclusions based on the sample of 274 orthopaedic surgeons who completed the survey. This still accounts for a substantial cohort sample whose workplace experiences have not previously been reported. Another limitation is the lack of a comparison group. The aim of this study was to survey and recount the experiences of the small Black cohort within orthopaedic surgery. However, we acknowledge the importance of future comparative work. To our knowledge, no studies have evaluated how often orthopaedic surgeons in other racial groups experience racial microaggressions and if the rates of racial microaggressions among Black orthopaedic surgeons are markedly higher than other groups or other specialties. A future comparative study that evaluates racial microaggressions across different cohorts or a study that compares occupational opportunity for Black orthopaedic surgeons as perceived by non-Black surgeons would be a substantial contribution to the literature on diversity, equity, and inclusion in orthopaedics.


Most of the Black orthopaedic surgeons surveyed agreed that racial discrimination and diminished occupational opportunity are pervasive in the workplace and reported experiencing various racial microaggressions in practice. The perception of unequal opportunity was more markedly perceived by Black female orthopaedic surgeons. Furthermore, less than 20% of respondents felt that national orthopaedic organizations are sincere in efforts to address racial discrimination in the workplace.

Critical analysis of the efficacy of institutional and national initiatives addressing inclusion and equity in the workplace for Black orthopaedic surgeons is needed. More concerted efforts to understand the experiences of Black orthopaedic surgeons, particularly Black female orthopaedic surgeons, may aid in improving the perception of orthopaedic surgery as a more equitable and inclusive surgical specialty.


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