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Health care equality

Otis Social Justice Award to be presented to Dr. Augustus White III, M.D., Ph.D., author of book on unconscious biases in health care.

An internationally known orthopaedic surgeon and professor of medicine will receive the Otis Social Justice Award for 2012 for his work in calling attention to unconscious biases in health care and for promoting equality.

Augustus White III, M.D., Ph.D. will be presented with the Otis Award on Tuesday, March 27, and he will deliver a lecture entitled, "What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Would Want Us to Know about Health Care Disparities." The ceremony and lecture, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in Hindle Auditorium, Science Center.

Dr. White's lecture will draw upon his own experiences growing up in Jim Crow-era Tennessee and training and teaching in overwhelmingly white medical institutions as well as his acclaimed book, Seeing Patients: Unconscious Bias in Health Care (Harvard University Press, 2011), written with author David Chanoff.

The book, based on interviews with leading physicians and research from neuroscience, social psychology and clinical practice, examines the “unconscious bias that riddles medical treatment” and explores “what it means for health care in a diverse twenty-first century America.”

The book reflects Dr. White's lifelong commitment to issues of diversity and his work in medical education and issues of health care disparities. He has given numerous interviews on the topic, including a recent appearance on the PBS program, the Tavis Smiley Show. Seeing Patients was recommended to entering medical students at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. And the Partnership, Inc., and the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, honored Dr. White on the publication of recent book and for his lifelong commitment to overcoming health care disparities and advancing diversity in medical leadership and education.

Dr. White, the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Distinguished Professor of Medical Education and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School, is a widely published authority on biomechanics of the spine, fracture healing, and surgical and non-surgical care of the spine. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 scientific and clinical publications, including chapters, books and articles. Most noted among them is the highly regarded, definitive work, The Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine, now in its second edition with a third planned. He is also the author of a book for patients called Your Aching Back, published by Simon and Schuster in 1990 and selected by Consumer Reports as the best back-pain book.

Dr. White’s interest in orthopaedics stemmed from his experiences in athletics, first at Northfield Mount Hermon School, where he was captain of the wrestling team and is in the Athletic Hall of Fame, and then at Brown University, where he was a varsity athlete in football and lacrosse. A star athlete as well as a scholar, he became fascinated by orthopaedic treatment of sports injuries and specialized in orthopaedic surgery.

Dr. White attended Stanford Medical School, and he completed his orthopaedic residency at Yale Medical Center. He served two years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and he studied at the University of Gothenburg and at the Karolinska Institute, where he obtained a Ph.D. for research on the biomechanics of the spine.

He later returned to Yale Medical School and became a full professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the Engineering Laboratory for Musculoskeletal Disease, which he founded. He was recruited to Beth Israel Hospital to start its first Orthopaedic Department, where he founded its Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory. Both laboratories are at present fully active.

Dr. White has served on the boards of numerous organizations, including the Brown University Board of Fellows, the Board of Trustees of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, the board of WGBH Radio/TV and the Scientific Advisory Board of OrthoLogic Corporation, of which he is a past chairman.

The Otis Social Justice lecture series was established in 1959 through the generosity of Henry Witte Otis, whose children included two Wheaton graduates. Eleanor Roosevelt was among the earliest Otis lecturers (1962). Today, the purpose of the Otis Fund has broadened to support a colloquium in social justice--a forum through which the Wheaton community may address key contemporary social issues. The first Otis Social Justice Award was presented in 1990 to former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.