Voices for change: Celebrating diversity within the AO
My AO Access journey: Claudia Medina
Colombian orthopedic and trauma surgeon Claudia Medina wants to make one thing clear: Fostering a diverse and inclusive environment is neither a novelty nor a trend—it’s a global cultural change and a sustainability imperative. Medina, a member of the AO Access Mentorship Task Force, said diversity and inclusion were not commonly discussed among surgeons when she joined AO Access three years ago, and she’s glad to see that changing.
Currently chief scientific officer of Barranquilla, Colombia’s Fundación Campbell—an institution treating 200 fragility hip fractures per year and serving a population of half a million people—Medina described her upbringing and her pathway into medicine.
“I was born in Bogotá and I grew up in a small city, Florencia in southern Colombia. At that time, our country was going through difficult times due to violence; however, I have very nice memories of my childhood in that city,” she said. “I grew up in a very traditional family: father, mother, two brothers, and myself. My parents worked most of the time and often were very busy. Nevertheless, I feel we were truly loved and they were always close to us.”
An affinity for biology and chemistry was a red thread throughout her education; she graduated at 17 years old, determined to become a doctor.
“I admired the work of people in hospital—not just the work of doctors. I think that was my main influence, because there were no doctors in my family and I didn’t have any doctors close by. Since I was young, my parents asked me a lot whether I was sure that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Medina said. “It’s funny because my dad is an accountant, but he told me to think carefully because the life of a doctor is very busy with a lot of work; he suggested that I think about studying something else. However, my parents saw how determined I was and supported me unconditionally. And then I moved to Bogotá to study at medical school.”
‘A specialty for men’As a medical student, Medina fell in love with trauma surgery.
“At that time, it was unlikely that I would make it to becoming an orthopedic surgeon because it was considered a specialty for men. However, despite some opposition, I also had a lot of people around who encouraged me to do it,” she explained. “During my residency, I met people who inspired me in many ways as a person and as a surgeon. They were my role models.”
After an initial stint working in a small Colombian city, Medina worked for 17 years in a university hospital in Medellín until joining Fundación Campbell in early 2023. She has been an AO Trauma member for two decades and has been a faculty member for 12 years; in fact, she and Paola Sotelo from Chile were the first women in the world to be chairpersons of an AO Trauma country chapter.
“This is not a fad; it is not a temporary wave. It is the way the world is evolving.”
‘First, the patients’
“What keeps me moving forward in this career are, first, the patients—to offer them the best care, we must continue learning—and second, the students; I really like education and it is very gratifying to be able to positively influence their professional and personal lives in some way,” Medina said, noting that her own desire to keep moving is another factor. “The work evolves very quickly; there is so much to do and learn. It’s hard for me to remain static, without doing something else or learning something new.”
Medina has had a few important role models and mentors in her life. Among these inspirations are her parents, who taught her that anything is possible, and AO Past President and AO Access Steering Committee member Jaime Quintero.
“[Jaime Quintero] has inspired me to always give my best as a surgeon and as a person, and to understand that life is a permanent learning process, that leadership is to be of service to other people, and [to] learn to enjoy seeing others grow,” said Medina.
With that appreciation for mentor-mentee relationships, Medina answered the AO Access open call for task force applicants in 2020. Once elected, she and her fellow tasks force members began working hand in hand with Senior Program Manager Diversity, Inclusion and Mentorship Tatjana Topalovic to advance the AO in terms of diversity, inclusion, and mentorship.
“I thought diversity and inclusion were present in all human interaction [but they] were not common topics of discussion in our day-to-day lives as surgeons,” she said.
‘This is not a fad’The AO Access Mentorship Task Force exists to inspire and support the AO global community to collaboratively reach new heights of excellence and fulfill personal and professional goals. Its stated objectives are to transform the lives of mentors and mentees through a global network that enables collaborative learning and to facilitate personal and professional growth in an inclusive and sustainable way.
“I think the main challenge is to become aware of the cultural change that has been taking place in the world for several years and which must be implemented in our organization—not as a novelty nor to meet quotas,” she emphasized. “The culture change is richest when we find a natural balance that includes underrepresented groups without it being an obligation or a matter of quotas, or simply to show members of underrepresented groups on social media. The other challenge is sustainability, because this is not a fad; it is not a temporary wave. It is the way the world is evolving.
“As for all cultural changes, this is not about people immediately changing their ways of thinking.”
Answering an AO mandate
To date, the task force can claim significant success in advancing the AO’s diversity, inclusion, and mentorship mandate “to start working on the cultural change that is taking place around the world and making it a reality in our organization.”
“At the beginning, this subject was not discussed on a regular basis. Today, there is a broader commitment to the AO Access initiative. People know about it. They have been able to resolve their doubts and are implementing it in their day-to-day lives,” Medina said. “Our pilot mentoring program in 2022 was a great learning experience for everyone; it has been incredible to see it become a reality that offers surgeons from all AO clinical specialties the opportunity to participate.”
Change can be challenging, and Medina knows it takes time.
“As for all cultural changes, this is not about people immediately changing their ways of thinking,” she said. “It is a process, a change in attitudes, and you learn to adapt and understand it, and be constantly advancing with an open curious mind and heart. This balance is not easy. It’s not about being permissive or resigning ourselves to no diversity, but I think we also must take the other side. People have deeply rooted fears, preconceptions, and myths. Initiatives like AO Access help dispel myths and drive change in the least traumatic way possible.”
“We hope that diversity and inclusion eventually come naturally. Mentoring will be one of the ways for more people to have opportunities.”
‘Being different is what makes us unique’
Looking to the future, Medina hopes to see the AO continue the AO Access Mentorship Program and expand its diversity and inclusion efforts worldwide and in various languages.
“This is not just a project for today. It’s an AO initiative that must be sustainable over time,” she said. “We hope that diversity and inclusion eventually come naturally. Mentoring will be one of the ways for more people to have opportunities and share their knowledge and experience acquired over the years.
Ultimately, she says, “being different is what makes us unique.”
“I think it is important to understand that we are not talking about being better or worse. Different leadership styles benefit the growth of organizations and their people,” said Medina. “This well-managed diversity is what helps us learn from each other. Of course, these relationships must be based on respect, empathy, active listening, and very good communication. The world is changing and every day we learn that every person has something to contribute. High-performance teams are made up of different people who, with wise leadership, achieve outstanding outcomes.”