Five Questions With: Dr. Julia Katarincic and Anabel Schiller

University Orthopedics recently partnered with Lincoln School on a program aimed at exposing more women to a career in orthopedics surgery and reducing gender disparity in the field.

Dr. Julia Katarincic, an orthopedic hand surgeon at University Orthopedics, is one of the instructors for the eight-week program, which will include instructional lectures, hands-on orthopedic challenges and discussion/written work. Lincoln School junior Anabel Schiller has spearheaded efforts to bring the program to her school. They discuss the new program and the gender disparity in orthopedic surgery.

PBN: How did this partnership between University Orthopedics and Lincoln School begin?

SCHILLER: This summer, my father and I were having a conversation about women in orthopedics, and the question of “How can we get more involved” was brought up. Together, we researched and met with John Diego Arango, the head of the STEAMX program here at Lincoln. We met once before school started, and I continued to meet with him during the early fall to finalize how we were going to propose this course to our head of school. In November, my father, Dr. Jonathan Schiller; Jen Bowdoin, a biology teacher at Lincoln; Dr. Katarincic; and I presented the Orthopedics in Action course to Sophie Lau, and it was approved that day.

- Advertisement -

KATARINCIC: When Anabel approached me with this idea, I was completely on board, as were my partners at University Orthopedics. All providers at University Orthopedics are also part of the faculty of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Teaching is part of our mission and this is a perfect example of utilizing our skills to give back to the community through education.

PBN: What will students experience through this program?

SCHILLER: Through this program, the students have been learning how to identify and solve a number of problems within our skeletal and muscular systems. There are seven individual lessons, including Fracture Puzzles, Get a Grip, Achilles Tendon, Scoliosis, Knee Injury, Find Your Center, and finally, a lesson about Ex-Fixes. In each lesson, there is a lecture and then a hands-on worksheet in which we actually learn how orthopedic surgeons repair various injuries.

KATARINCIC: Six of the classes were based on the Orthopedics in Action curriculum and University Orthopedics physicians curated two additional sessions, including Introduction to Orthopedics and a class on Women in Orthopedics. It’s truly exciting because these young women are getting to see a career opportunity they may never have thought of.

ANABEL SCHILLER, a junior at Lincoln School, has spearheaded efforts to bring a program aimed at exposing more women to a career in orthopedics surgery and reducing gender disparity in the field to her school. / COURTESY BRITTANY TAYLOR

PBN: How important is it to create programs like this one to strengthen the pipeline at the early education level?

SCHILLER: I believe that giving everyone, regardless of their social status, access to programs like this one is what will create a more diverse workforce in our future. People learn that they have the ability to do anything they could want to, such as becoming an orthopedic surgeon, by seeing people who look like them become successful in their positions. If we can give access to seeing things like this at an early age or during early education, we are encouraging and promoting following your dreams to achieve the future you believe you deserve.

KATARINCIC: The value of the program is twofold. From an academic level, the students will be exposed to a very specialized area of science taught by those who practice it every day. There is good literature, most recently a 2021 article in the World Journey of Surgery, to support the premise that early exposure to orthopedics is a primary driver of those picking the specialties. Hence, the program at Lincoln School and the early exposure may encourage a few more females to go into this field of medicine.

Personally, I have always wanted to go into medicine. My original plan was to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. I was fortunate enough early in high school to be exposed to a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. Seeing what he did, spending time with him and his patients, changed my career path.

PBN: How do you see the program grow and expand in the future? Does University Orthopedics plan to create similar programs in collaboration with other schools?

SCHILLER: The plan is for this program to continue long after I graduate. The administrators and I will choose someone who will be successful in furthering the program. In terms of other schools, Lincoln School will be opening the program up to all girls in public Providence-area schools this fall, including Classical High School, Central High School, Central Falls and more, as well as continuing the relationship we have built with the Met School.

KATARINCIC: A unique aspect of this program is that we will continue to follow the students after they graduate and throughout their higher education and careers. We want to see what kind of impact a program like this has long term.

PBN: What else can be done to bridge the gender gap in medicine – and in particular in orthopedics?

SCHILLER: I think the best way to begin bridging the gender gap in the workforce, particularly in orthopedics, is to show girls that we have the ability to become surgeons. My goal with this program was to show girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity that they too can become surgeons, or pursue the careers they want. The program is, for the most part, directed by female med students, residents and attendings, so it gives girls the opportunity to see how successful they can be if they follow their dreams.

KATARINCIC: I think it’s vital for all women in this field, especially those who may have come up without the benefit of a female mentor, to continue to support and mentor the younger generations, whether that’s through programs like this or on an individual basis.

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com.

The program was brought to the school by Lincoln School junior Anabel Schiller, right. / COURTESY UNIVERSITY ORTHOPEDICS