For Einstein orthopedic surgeon Richard E. Grant, MD, dedication to diversity and inclusion runs deep.
“It really started with my dad, Benjamin F. Grant,” he says. “My dad was a doctor, but he was also a civil rights activist out of Muncie, IN. He saw two goals for someone to be a responsible individual: they had to have a direction in life and a sense of dedication to something.”
He also credits the courage and determination of his social worker mother, Juanita C. Grant, MSW. A strong role model, she worked her way up from poverty and difficult circumstances to earn her master’s degree before she met her husband.
Though he doesn’t consider himself a civil rights activist, Dr. Grant’s own experience coming up through the ranks of medicine also made it clear to him that although there’s been notable progress, there’s still a way to go before women and minorities are better represented in orthopedics. That’s why he has dedicated himself to opening up the field—and it’s for those efforts that the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is presenting him with the organization’s 2017 Diversity Award.
Like his father, Dr. Grant received his medical degree from Howard University. He went on to serve in the U.S. Air Force, becoming the first African American to finish an orthopedic residency in that branch of the service, and retiring as a lieutenant colonel. That was in 1984. He became chair of the division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Howard University Hospital in 1988, and moved on to become Edgar Jackson Jr. MD Endowed Professor for Diversity and Clinical Excellence at University Hospitals of Cleveland from 2006 through 2012. He joined the faculty of Einstein Medical Center’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in August 2012, specializing in total joint arthroplasty—the surgical replacement or reconstruction of a joint.
That he has been able to progress so far is a reflection on his own undoubted clinical skill and dedication to patient care, but Dr. Grant also credits others for helping bring him along.
“I had great mentors,” he recalls. “The chairman of the orthopedics department at Wilford Hall Medical Center (an Air Force medical facility in San Antonio) took a great interest in me and helped guide me through the political and cultural challenges. I’ve had help at every step along the way in my career. I could do no less for anybody else who asked for my help.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Grant has done his best to respond to those calls. Orthopedics is a difficult, competitive field to get into to begin with, but women and minorities historically have been underrepresented, in part due to cultural differences.
When he was at Howard, there were 156 orthopedic surgery residency programs in the country, says Dr. Grant. Only 2.2 percent of the residents were African American. About 9 percent were women. Under those circumstances, women and minority residents could feel out of place.
“Fast forward to 2016,” he says. “Even now, the percentage is only 4.4 African American, but the vanguard has advanced for women—12 percent. Women have made greater progress than African American males. But women are opening the door for minority students to come after them. Orthopedics is one of the most competitive residencies to get into, but the women are coming right along and competing, and that makes more room for minority involvement.”
Dr. Grant has mentored many students directly to help them learn to jump the hurdles that might stand in their way. He also has become involved in positions of leadership and governance. As chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at Howard, for example, Dr. Grant made it a point to recruit more women residents. At the time, 10 to 15 percent of the orthopedic residents at Howard were female.
“I have never refused commitments to sit on a committee or help an enterprise that was promoting women and minorities in orthopedics,” he says. “Usually, I’m the only African American in the room where policy decisions are being made. I’m representing a perspective that may not reflect the consciousness of the room. Sometimes you get pushback, but you can’t succumb to that. You have to consent to bring this up as a requisite agenda item.”
Receiving the Diversity Award, after all these years of striving, he says, feels great. “You labor in the vineyards for such a long time,” he says with a gentle laugh, “and you become an expert in diversity by default.”