SOURCE: AAOS

March 06, 2008 10:29 ET

Claudia Thomas, MD: A Pioneer on Two Fronts

First Black Female Orthopaedic Surgeon Now Mobilizes Others

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - March 6, 2008) - The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is honored to recognize a surgeon who heals, inspires and encourages others. Claudia Thomas, MD, the first black female orthopaedic surgeon in her field, was presented today with the Academy's 2008 Diversity Award at the 75th Annual Meeting.

Dr. Thomas has worked throughout her residency and practice to recruit and retain individuals who are underrepresented in the field of orthopaedic surgery. According to Jason Hammond, MD, chief resident in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Dr. Thomas "stands out as a preeminent role model in the black community and also in the field of orthopaedics." Her tireless efforts have helped increase the proportion of female residents at Johns Hopkins to 20 percent and black residents to 32 percent.

As part of her current practice, she and other physicians visit their local middle schools to cultivate positive relationships with the students and to demonstrate the opportunities available through education and perseverance. "I have been mentoring since elementary school," Dr. Thomas noted. "I am still sought out by young people who are interested in pursuing orthopaedics. This has given me the opportunity to mentor, encourage and 'prop up' those who may have felt discouraged along the way."

Dr. Thomas credits her early interest in art, mathematics, the carpentry she learned from her father and the art of sewing passed down from her mother as strong influences that led her to choose orthopaedic surgery as her specialty. "When I realized that this is what I wanted to do, I began reading materials and subscribed to the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. I absorbed the language of orthopaedic surgery, and that made me more comfortable with the specialty."

Now, she reaches out to other potential candidates for the program, particularly those who are black or female. Keisha DePass, MD, of the Maryland Pediatric Orthopaedic Center, said, "Dr. Thomas has been instrumental in helping me to achieve my goals. She is my role model and one of the main reasons I felt that I could successfully accomplish my dreams of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon."

Dr. Thomas' biography clearly reflects her vast talent and ongoing commitment to diversity. A graduate of the New York City High School of Music and Art, Vassar College and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she interned at the Yale-New Haven Hospital in general and orthopaedic surgery. She also completed a fellowship in orthopaedic trauma and the spine at the University of Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. She founded the African-American Alumnae of Vassar College and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Minority Faculty Association. Dr. Thomas also chaired the education committee at St. Thomas Hospital in the United States Virgin Islands and the membership committee of the Monumental City Medical Society, and she was elected president of the Virgin Islands Medical Society, the Maryland State Medical Society and the Monumental City Medical Society. Sitting on the Board of Directors of the J. Robert Gladden Society since 1998, she is also a current member of the Journal of the National Medical Association's Editorial Review Board and a Fellow of the AAOS.

These impressive credentials still do not fully reveal Dr. Thomas' unwavering dedication to an orthopaedic future that will in her words, "more closely represent the composition of the United States, as a whole, and its gender and racial mix of people." It is this passion for advocacy that demonstrates her contributions to the Academy and to underserved communities around the country.

Previous Diversity Award Winners

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