Orthopaedic spine surgeon Elizabeth Lord, MD, places humility, representation and mentorship at the center of her success.
As UCLA’s first woman spine faculty member, Dr. Lord is the recipient of the 2020 North American Spine Society’s “20 under 40” award, which highlights future leaders for their accomplishments, community service and philosophy for care in the field of spine surgery.
“I hope that my presence demonstrates that there is room for all types of people in highly competitive fields,” Dr. Lord says. “I hope it helps for students and trainees to see a woman of color in spine surgery, because I saw personally what a big difference that made for me.”
For Dr. Lord that person was Charla Fischer, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at NYU Langone’s Spine Center, chief resident while Dr. Lord was a medical student. “Having a mentor that’s invested in you and that looks like you, it makes you feel like you matter and that your career matters.” She credits Jeffrey Wang, MD, an orthopaedic spine surgeon at USC and Francis Hornicek, MD, of UCLA as a career mentors: “It’s very humbling to have leaders of the field take an interest in my career; their generosity in providing research, career and leadership opportunities is something I try to emulate in some small way towards my trainees.”
When patients request a female spine surgeon, “I feel lucky that UCLA can provide that service because it’s pretty unusual,” she says of the field, which is traditionally filled by male surgeons. To the young women with scoliosis in need of spine surgery, Dr. Lord says, “It can help to see yourself in your doctor.”
Dr. Lord says she draws upon her upbringing to show cultural humility toward her patients – a sense of openness rooted in self-reflection.
Her parents were United States diplomats, which allowed her to experience many cultures during the family’s travels. She received schooling in three countries and followed her interests in different cultures by pursuing sociology at Harvard University.
It was through her post-college job as a health care consultant that she realized her passion for medicine and enrolled in premed classes.
Dr. Lord attended medical school at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed her residency at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The UCLA Spine Center “got me interested in bone biologics,” she says, and she has since published on spine surgery and bone healing in human and animal models.
Her interests lie in complex deformity and revision cases, minimally invasive surgery, spine trauma and motion preservation surgery. “I try to marry technical excellence with a focus on who our patients are as people and what their individual goals are,” she says.
Expertise in orthopaedics, an interest in technological advancement in spine and the appeal of collaboration formed by her time on the Harvard sailing team led Dr. Lord to join an interdisciplinary team of fellows at UCLA Biodesign Program which is currently focused on COVID-related pulmonology innovations. Dr. Lord will use the tenets of the program to search for further innovations in spine treatment.
“I anticipate the field changing dramatically over the next 20 years,” she says, emphasizing new technologies, ideas and on diversity in medicine. “UCLA has done a great job of looking at the room and filling it with different perspectives.”