Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeon Dr. Milton Little
Aug 20, 2021 Rosanna Turner
Meet Dr. Milton Little, an orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Cedars-Sinai. Mentorship has always played a big role in Dr. Little's life, starting with his grandfather, who was also a doctor. We talked to Dr. Little about being one of the few Black physicians in the U.S. who specializes in orthopaedic trauma and forming strong bonds with his patients.
"Being an orthopaedic trauma surgeon allows me to care for patients immediately and help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible."
What made you decide to become a surgeon?
Dr. Milton Little: My grandfather, Dr. Thomas Bass, was a family practice physician in a small town in Michigan called Ypsilanti. He was one of the first Black physicians to own his own practice. He was also the physician who cared for and delivered a large proportion of the Black people in the town. Seeing the impact my grandfather had on people's lives made an impression on me at a young age.
In medical school, one of my mentors, Dr. Clifford Craig, was a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon. This was when I fell in love with orthopaedics—and have stayed in love with it ever since. Once I started residency at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Dr. Dean Lorich became another of my mentors. My time with him led me to orthopaedic trauma.
What do you like about orthopaedic trauma as a specialty?
ML: Being an orthopaedic trauma surgeon allows me to care for patients immediately and help them get back on their feet as quickly as possible. A large part of my practice involves working with people who have sustained a major injury, such as a fracture or multiple broken bones, and are trying to return to their previous level of function and activity.
Following surgery, I try to see my patients for at least a year to monitor their recovery and rehabilitation. Because of this, I'm able to really develop a relationship with my patients. My goal is to be their cheerleader and support them in any way I can.
As a trauma surgeon, you often say that you first meet patients 'on their worst day.' How do you help them get through this tough time?
ML: You learn a lot from every patient you manage. If someone gets injured in a bad car accident that results in their pelvis being broken or shattered, I can assume that this might be one of the worst days of their lives. I focus on making them as comfortable as possible in the moment, and then working with them to regain their strength and mobility.
Even though I might first meet people on their worst day, I also get to see them return to doing activities, such as playing sports, that bring them joy. I had a patient who completed a marathon after breaking his calcaneus (heel), which was pretty amazing. He gave me a copy of the marathon certificate, which now hangs in my office.
As a Black doctor, you've been outspoken about the lack of diversity among orthopaedic surgeons and the barriers people of color face when pursuing a career in medicine. How has this affected you?
ML: The problem begins with early education and the lack of opportunities available to people in underserved communities. The wage gap, technology gap and resource gaps in early education are a product of the lack of funding and resources in those underserved communities. The lack of exposure to physicians, lawyers, scientists or other professions impacts children's aspirations for achieving those goals.
Without the examples and exposure to Black physicians, bankers, lawyers, educators, maybe my life would have played out differently. Seeing successful people who looked like me provided inspiration and helped me understand what I could become. I try to be an example by speaking up and being as visible as possible by describing my experiences, participating on committees, teaching and mentoring students.
What do you think medical institutions need to be doing to improve on this front?
ML: Our dedication to diversity at Cedars-Sinai doesn't just involve hiring a diverse faculty, but also striving to hire diverse leadership such as board members, department chairs, division heads, residency and fellowship directors.
On the patient side, it's about fighting for diverse management of our patients. For our underserved or underinsured patients, we need to not only make sure we can treat them in the trauma setting, but also make sure that we can manage them during their recovery, follow-up and for the long term.