The fatal shooting of Dr. Preston Phillips, one of four people killed this week during a shooting at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, shocked doctors across the country, and especially other black orthopedic surgeons.

It was a “unicorn,” said Dr. Alonzo Sexton. What does it take to know one? Sexton is also a black orthopedic surgeon. Of 30,000 doctors in the United States in this discipline, only about 600 are black, which represents less than 2 percent of all orthopedic surgeons, according to 2018 data of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

“Yeah, it’s a pretty small group,” said Sexton, whose practice is in Atlanta. He and a group of other black orthopedic doctors are building what he said will be the largest black orthopedic practice in the country. “And that will take just six of us. That’s how low the number is and that’s how rare and special Dr. Phillips was.”

Dr Preston J Phillips
Dr. Preston J. Phillips.Saint Francis Health System via AP

Sexton said her specialty is among the “least diverse” due to difficulties obtaining residencies. Unlike other areas of medicine, where candidates can choose a medical school to attend, in orthopedics, schools and perspectives have to match.

“So, you rank the schools or programs you want to go to and the programs rank you,” he explained. “And if there’s a match, that’s where you end up going. So it’s highly competitive and a lot of times, with a lot of evaluations, there’s the potential for bias. And that bias exists in orthopedics. He hasn’t really done a great job of extending the pipe.”

Phillips studied at Harvard Medical School and worked with renowned spine surgeon Augustus White at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He also frequently traveled to Africa to provide care in underserved countries.

Dr. Eric Carson, a black orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis, said he was devastated when he heard that Phillips, his friend and colleague, had been shot to death at a Tulsa hospital this week. But Carson wasn’t surprised when the shooting took place.

A patient bought a rifle at 2 pm and went crazy inside the hospital three hours later. In a letter found on his body, the gunman “made it clear that he entered with the intent to kill Dr. Phillips and anyone who stood in his way,” Tulsa Police Chief Wendell said Thursday. Franklin.

“Back surgery hurts a lot,” Carson said, guessing the patient likely felt his pain was being ignored. “Dr. Phillips is a very, very good surgeon and he does very complex surgeries. But this was a really unhappy patient.”

Carson, the former president of the JR Gladden Society, the national organization for orthopedic doctors of color, put it simply: “Pain brings out the worst in people,” he said.

“The sad thing is that something like this can be anticipated. This is part of the practice of medicine, which is truly unfortunate these days,” she added.

Carson said the attack reminded him of an incident that occurred 20 years ago while he was a student at Harvard Medical School. A patient took a doctor hostage and urged him and other students to take cover under desks. The situation calmed down, but he absorbed the potential for violence between patient and doctor.

“If you ask doctors across the country, 99 percent of them will say they’ve been threatened or had to have restraining orders or had to fire clients because of the threats,” Carson said. “I know doctors who carry concealed weapons for cases like this.”

Carson said that in addition to the general need for gun control measures across the country, he said hospitals also needed metal detectors.

“I have to get a background check as a doctor, but don’t we do those for people who want to buy rifles? It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I was in the Army. These weapons, AR-15 rifles, are used for combat. It should not be sold to the general public. It’s just tragic.”

Ultimately, the loss will be felt in Tulsa and across the country, the doctors said.

“It was necessary,” Sexton said. “It is important that black patients have black doctors who care for them. And in orthopedics, one in two adults has a musculoskeletal problem, which is what orthopedics deals with. So half the population has some problem that they need to see an orthopedic doctor for, and again, with such a small number of representation, a lot of black and brown patients don’t have access to doctors who look like them.”

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rhyme abdelkader contributed.

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