In 1961, 19-year-old Alvin Crawford was not the most popular guy on campus. To the contrary, it was a time of great racial tension in the United States, and by virtue of his being the first African-American to enroll in medical school at the University of Tennessee he says he could clear a cafeteria table just by setting his tray down.
Fast forward nearly five decades and the tables have turned, so to speak.
Today it’s considered an honor and a privilege to be seated next to Alvin Crawford, MD, an internationally known pediatric spine surgeon and professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine who, on Thursday, Feb. 27, was inducted into the 2014 class of Great Living Cincinnatians, the highest honor bestowed by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
"You can’t let racism and discrimination determine your values, because when you do that then you are going to have a miserable life,” Crawford says of the social struggles he encountered during his early medical education and training, which took place during the height of the civil rights movement, a time when African-Americans were widely abused and shunned, even in academia.
"It was pretty isolating. Here I was being trained to treat all humans and I wasn’t really considered a full part of that humanity. But I could either marginalize myself as a victim or go on and be the best that I could be and that’s what I did,” he says of completing both his undergraduate degree (in music) and medical school training in an impressive six years.
After graduating in the top of his medical school class, Crawford then focused on honing his surgical skills by securing prestigious surgical residencies across the country, including Harvard University. He joined the staff at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1977 as the director of orthopaedic surgery and held the position for 29 years.
And the accolades have followed him ever since …
Crawford is the only surgeon to be named in the Top 10 Educators in the first 100 years at Cincinnati Children’s, has made the list of the country’s best doctors yearly since 2005, received the Daniel Drake Medal from the UC College of Medicine (its highest academic honor) in 2006, the Trumpet Award in 2009, the Diversity Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in 2007, and was bestowed the Laurel Wreath Award from Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity in 2013.
In addition to being the past president of the Scoliosis Research Society and the John Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, Crawford authored a teaching module that is widely used across the U.S. and other countries. He is the founding director of the Crawford Spine Center at Cincinnati Children’s and in 2004 was honored with the dedication of the Crawford Chair in Pediatric Orthopaedics and a subsequent chair in spine surgery. He is currently an attending physician with UC Health Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.
As a clinician, he has performed over 27,000 procedures, many of which were directed toward scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine). He became one of the nation’s foremost authorities on video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery using multiple small incisions to insert a telescopic mini-cam to release curved spines and insert rods to straighten them. He is considered a leading expert on the management of musculoskeletal problems in children complicated by neurofibromatosis (a genetic condition that can cause tumors).
Crawford’s charitable contributions to society extend to providing orthopaedic care to underserved children around the world, especially those with clubfoot, neurofibromatosis and severe spinal deformities. His teaching in the Third World has brought residents, fellows, attending surgeons and nurses to Cincinnati as fellows or observers to further their study of these musculoskeletal l conditions.
The 2014 class of Great Living Cincinnatians also includes three other prominent figures: Otto Budig Jr., Francie Pepper and George Schaeffer Jr., joining 135 members named since 1967, the first of whom was Albert Sabin, MD, the medical researcher best known for having developed the first live, attenuated polio vaccine.