Voices for change: Celebrating diversity within the AO
Héctor J Aguado (center) with colleagues Arancha Álvarez (left) and Lourdes Elorduy (right)
Spanish orthopedic trauma surgeon Héctor J Aguado, MD, PHD, knows how important it is for the AO to reflect the community of patients served by AO surgeons. That—along with a genuine desire to learn more about diversity, inclusion and mentorship—is what prompted his to dive headfirst into AO Access.
Aguado, a consultant in the Hospital Clínico Universitario Traumatology and Orthopaedic Surgery Service’s Trauma ad Orthogeriatric Unit in Valladolid, Spain, is a member of the AO Access Faculty and Leader Development Task Force. In that role, he works with AO colleagues to empower innovative and inclusive faculty and leaders who value the diversity of health care workers and patients.
“AO Access is a good opportunity for me to give voice to the value of inclusion. Let’s go for that. Here in Spain, we have fewer problems with, for example, women getting on faculty panels [but] we don’t have, for example, black, Chinese, or Indian surgeons. “Your race, ethnicity, or gender should not matter. I think we have to be more open and give equal opportunities—let more people into the group.”
“It’s not that people are intentionally biased against people like me. I have a lot of characteristics that people could easily be unconsciously biased against.”
‘Always wanted to be a doctor’
Aguado, the son of a physician, can’t recall a time when he didn’t want to become a doctor, though at one point he toyed with the idea of studying engineering.
“At a certain point, I thought about that because my friends at school wanted to become engineers, and I really liked figuring out how things work. This was around 1998, and there was a big boom for telecommunications companies,” he recounted. “Then, when I was 18 and it was time for me to apply for university, I was on holiday with my family. My parents took my brother and me on an outing by car, a long drive, and they started talking about medicine: ‘You always wanted to be a doctor,’ they said, and it was
‘Not just about looking at x-rays’
More than 20 years after that conversation, Aguado is still passionate about people in general and patients in particular.
“One thing I always tell my students when they are in the clinics with me is, ‘You saw 30 to 45 patients today, and all of them left the clinic smiling. That’s because they’re cured or feel better about their condition. It means you did you job,’” he said. “If a patient is angry or uncomfortable with me, I did something wrong. Making patients feel comfortable is part of the job of helping people. It’s not just about looking at x-rays. It’s how the patient feels.”
“The medical team should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.”
Helping abroadThose connections to patients can be life-changing: After a consultant and mentor during his training introduced him to a bishop who was doing philanthropic work in Cambodia, Aguado ended up conducting twelve medical missions in that country, operating on more than 300 patients over the years.
“I went to Cambodia with this bishop and acted as a general physician there. That’s where I met a woman who was doing charity work and she enlisted me to do surgery on ten kids,” Aguado said. “I went to these remote villages and visited these children in their homes in the jungle and rice fields, took their pictures, and returned to Spain. With help from a nongovernmental organization, I returned with my mentor to Cambodia six months later to operate on these children. We did eleven more of these missions over the years, with more trauma surgeons—even anesthetists—joining us as time went on. It’s like with the AO: The greater we are in number, the more we can learn, grow, and help patients.”
Driving change in educationThe AO is another of Aguado’s passions: Since joining the organization in 2008, he has served as a delegate from AO Trauma Spain, as a faculty member, and as a course chairperson at AO courses in Davos, Switzerland, Spain, Türkiye, Argentina, England, and Palestine. His passions for patients and for the AO go hand-in-hand.
“It’s important to have transparent pathways for people to be part of the AO and to develop, for example, into faculty members. If I see a problem, I want to try to help solve it,” he said. “The problem in my environment is that there are people who want to get involved in AO faculty panels, but they are not being developed or they don’t progress,” he said. “There are only limited spaces for faculty. So, it is especially important to transparently select the most competent. Also, there are many more opportunities to get involved in the AO, for example as mentors or mentees, and we want to communicate these possibilities more to the community.”
“I joined AO Access because I want to provide more opportunities for people who are underrepresented—not special representation or extra privileges, just a fair opportunity to express themselves and compete.”
‘Never give up’
Along his journey to becoming an effective educator, Aguado explained, is “knowing who you are teaching.”
“You have to think about how your learners feel. You have to be sensitive. Sometimes, you may think you are giving the best lecture for 700 people in a three-day course, but sometimes there are other ways to deliver the same message so that perhaps it resonates better with a diverse audience,” he said. “As an analogy: not everyone likes rock and roll and not everyone likes jazz; in a group of 700 people there will be lots of diversity. So maybe faculties should be similarly diverse. I have learned this and it’s what I would like for my peers to learn from AO Access.”
Aguado´s advice for people facing barriers to realizing their goals goes beyond the age-old wisdom of “work hard.”
“Of course, work hard—but don’t give up, never give up. Keep pushing, and look for someone who can mentor you, guide you, and open doors,” he asserted. “There’s always someone who can really open a door for you; maybe it’s not in your department. Reach out anyway. Send an e-mail to the person who wrote a paper that impressed you. If you go to a course and there’s a faculty member you especially like, send an e-mail. If you don’t write the e-mail, the answer is ‘No.’ But if you do write it, maybe you’ll get a ‘Yes.’”
You might also be interested in:
- Reading the complete voices for change series
- Joining the AO Access Mentorship Program
- Listening to the AO Access to success podcast