A Pioneer for Diversity

By: Peter Pollack

Richard E. Grant, MD, receives AAOS Diversity Award

"I am sure that my path to becoming an orthopaedic surgeon, and subsequently that of hundreds of current young orthopaedists, residents, and medical students, would not have been paved if it were not for Dr. Grant,” wrote Bonnie Simpson Mason, MD, in support of the nomination of Richard E. Grant, MD, for the 2017 AAOS Diversity Award. Dr. Grant was presented with the award at the AAOS Annual Meeting yesterday.

In sponsoring his nomination, E. Anthony Rankin, MD, noted that Dr. Grant has championed diversity in orthopaedics throughout his long career.

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Richard E. Grant, MD, receives the 2017 Diversity Award from outgoing AAOS President Gerald R. Williams Jr, MD.

“When he completed his length of service in the U.S. Air Force, he turned down lucrative offers in private practice to come to Howard University College of Medicine to lead the Orthopaedic Surgery Service, replacing a giant in our specialty, Charles H. Epps, MD,” noted Dr. Rankin. “For the ensuing 13 years he was responsible for graduating 60+ orthopaedic residents, largely minority and female. He was an inspiration for medical students and orthopaedic residents in his position as chief of the service, but also in his positions of leadership in national organizations including the AAOS Diversity Advisory Board, and as a director of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS), including a year as president. He has been an active member of the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society and received its Mentoring Award for his exceptional work.”

“In 1988, when Dr. Grant arrived at Howard University, there had only been two female residents in the program and the second one was in her first year,” agreed Rinelda M. Horton, MD. “Dr. Grant changed the perception that women could not become orthopaedic surgeons because of the physicality of the profession. During his chairmanship, I believe he accepted more women than any other program in the country. At one time, female residents represented 25 percent of the residents in the program. That was unheard of in those days. Dr. Grant was a pioneer. He promoted diversity before diversity became popular. He always supported individuality and encouraged forward thinking. He embraced individuals of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. If anyone was going to give a minority an opportunity, it was Dr. Grant.”

A generation of progress
Dr. Grant received his BA in biology from Stanford University in 1971 and his medical degree from Howard University in 1976, followed by an internship with Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. From 1980 to 1984, he took his orthopaedic residency at the U.S. Air Force Wilford Hall Medical Center. He served in the Air Force for 11 years, and during that period undertook fellowships in joint arthroplasty at The Ohio State University Hospital and in adult spine at Baylor University, St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston.

In 1987, Dr. Grant was invited to interview at Howard University, which he joined in May 1988 as an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of spine surgery. By October of that year, he was promoted to chair of the orthopaedic surgery department. In 2001, he stepped down as chair, but continued his involvement in resident education.

“During the 13 years that I was president at Howard, we educated people from every background,” said Dr. Grant. “We took those individuals who we thought would be competitive, and it really didn’t make any difference what your racial background was.

“When I started in 1980, there were almost no women in orthopaedics,” he noted. “Now it’s about 12 percent. Once the word got out that we would accept female residents, we got applicants from all over because they knew we’d give them a fair shake. The women residents were extremely competitive in terms of their accomplishments. Everybody talks about how strong you have to be to be an orthopaedic surgeon. It’s not about strength; it’s about brains and understanding biomechanics.”

A teacher first
Dr. Grant is known not only for his efforts to improve diversity, but his boundless enthusiasm for teaching.

“My greatest accomplishment is that everybody I graduated I know well,” he said, “and they know me well. I’ve developed a lifetime bond with them. It was a privilege and an honor to be part of their educational process and watch them develop and become board certified. It’s like watching your children grow up. It’s that sort of bond.”

 “Dr. Grant was a resident’s chief,” wrote Surrenthia R. Parker, MD, FACS. “He demanded a lot from us, but he was also very supportive and respectful. He developed our core curriculum for increasing our knowledge of orthopaedic surgery. We had lectures at 6:00 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and Dr. Grant attended most of them. In fact, if you accidentally overslept and your phone rang shortly after 6:00 am, it was Dr. Grant waking you up. He fostered excellence in the Howard residents; we didn’t want to disappoint him, so we became excellent.”

“I have known Dr. Grant for more than 15 years,” wrote Joseph A. Buckwalter, MS, MD. “He is a warm, gracious, thoughtful, generous, and open person. He enthusiastically takes on the most challenging tasks. The list of his accomplishments in his curriculum vitae does not capture his energy, sense of humor, and personal warmth. It was my great pleasure to invite Dr. Grant to give a presentation on diversity in medicine at the University of Iowa. He met with students and residents who found him inspiring. The entire faculty of the college and our deans were uniformly impressed with his thoughtful analysis of the challenges facing medicine to include a more diverse group of providers and meet the healthcare needs of all patients.”

Dr. Grant’s professional accomplishments include helping to found the Black Premedical Society at Stanford and serving on the AAOS Diversity Advisory Board. He was the 2009 recipient of the Alvin H. Crawford Mentoring Award from the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, and currently holds the Edgar B. Jackson Chair for Diversity at Case Medical Center, Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. He is also a past president of the ABOS.

“I was extremely honored when I became a member of the ABOS,” he said. “That was something I had dreamed of doing; serving at the highest levels of organized, academic medicine, especially as it dealt with the aspects of cognitive learning and cognitive testing, oral board examinations, and written examinations. I served on the ABOS for 11 years and I was its first African-American president. For me that was a great honor. I really learned a great deal from the people around me.”

Dr. Grant offered a philosophical take on receiving the Diversity Award.

“The award really isn’t about you,” he noted. “It’s about your background. It’s about the people who shaped you. If you look at any physician, or anybody who has accomplished anything in life, they’re at the top of a pyramid, but that base is built up by all the people who have dedicated their life to pushing you to do your best. My roots begin with my mother and my dad, who were both professionals. My dad was a physician and surgeon. My mother had her masters in social work. They inculcated in me and my three sisters that you did nothing less than your best, and your whole life had to be geared toward education. We lived by the motto, to whom much is given, much is expected. If you’ve been given a lot in life in terms of opportunity, then you need to lift other people up.”  

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