Perry Initiative steers girls to medicine, engineering


Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Jenni Buckley, right, instructor for the Perry Initiative, explains the dynamics of bones in the human body Saturday at Shawano Community High School as Kaylee Schweitzer, left, a junior at New London High School, and Anna Fierek, a junior at Kimberly High School, listen. About 40 girls from more than a dozen schools in eastern Wisconsin attended the program, designed to inspire women to be leaders in orthopaedic surgery and engineering.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Taylor Klitzka, a sophomore at Pulaski High School, carves into a bone Saturday afternoon in the Shawano Community High School science lab during the Perry Initiative program, which tries to encourage more young women to pursue careers in medicine and engineering.

Performing surgery is probably not everyone’s idea of how to spend a weekend, but almost 40 high school girls did just that Saturday at Shawano Community High School.

The daylong outreach program was part of the Perry Initiative, a campaign to encourage teenage girls to explore careers in medicine and engineering. Both fields are lopsidedly dominated by men, according to Jenni Buckley, one of the instructors for the Shawano event.

“Orthopedics, which is the study and treatment of the muscular and skeletal systems, has very few women on both the engineering side, the people who make implants, and on the surgery side,” Buckley said. “There are fewer than 8 percent women professors and fewer than 4 percent women orthopedic surgeons.”

Students performed mock orthopaedic surgeries and conducted biomechanical engineering experiments, while also hearing from prominent women engineers and surgeons in the field.

In the morning, the girls helped suture severe cuts on skin and learned how to do spine fusions for scoliosis, Buckley said. They also learned about fixing severely broken legs.

The afternoon session gave the girls a more in-depth look at bones and ligaments, and they learned a variety of procedures that help people continue to function despite being temporarily or permanently disabled.

“We definitely need women in these fields. These professions are lucrative, and you can make a good living for yourself and your family in these fields,” Buckley said.

Orthopedic surgeons make around $200,000 per year, she said, and the engineering field offers similar pay.

Buckley said the role of engineering in health care is often overlooked by many colleges.

“They tend to focus on robotics and cars and aerospace, which is wonderful, but it doesn’t represent the whole of what engineers do,” said Buckley, who has a doctorate in engineering. “A lot of engineers are working in health care.”

Even the pills many people take are developed by engineers, Buckley said.

Rachel Castleton, a sophomore at Bay Port High School in Suamico, has known for a long time that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but she wasn’t sure which specialty would best suit her. She found the Perry Initiative’s look at orthopedics intriguing.

“Learning how to suture, that’s applicable in any field of medicine, even if I don’t decide to go into orthopedics,” Castleton said. “It gave me something to think about.”

Jordyn Bucholtz, a sophomore at New London High School, had been unsure of what she wanted to do as a career, but the Perry Initiative experience has her leaning toward a career in oral surgery.

“I didn’t know about any of this before, so it was very interesting to me,” Bucholtz said. “Normally in school, you just sit and learn about it or see pictures, but with this, you actually got to do it.”

Buckley was particularly impressed with the girls on Saturday, noting they were more willing than most to get in the trenches.

“I don’t if it’s the environment around here, but they’re particularly hands-on,” Buckley said. “They’re phenomenal.”

The Perry Initiative offers between 25 and 30 programs at sites nationwide each year. The Shawano program, sponsored by the Shawano Medical Center Foundation, was the group’s first visit to Wisconsin.