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Being a Woman Surgeon: To be or not to be?!

Mar 24, 2016

Being a Woman Surgeon (edited by Dr Preeti R John) is not a commonplace theme at diversity forums. Glancing through the July 2015 Bulletin of American College of Surgeons, I pick this very interesting insight. Dr David B Hoyt, Executive Director, alludes to the book with the same title and shares his thoughts in his editorial.

Women have practiced surgery since the profession’s inception. Nonetheless, women continue to be underrepresented in surgery. Unfortunately, there are signs that fewer women will be entering the surgical workforce in the coming years as the number of women medical school graduates slowly declines in the US, he laments. In 2005, 49.5 percent of medical school graduates were women, but in 2014, less than 47.5 percent of medical school graduates were women. Furthermore, only 21.3 percent of all surgeons in the US are women.

In all, 60 women surgeons describe in essays, poems, and interviews how they have dealt with the challenges, joys, frustrations, and rewards of being a woman in surgery. Their stories range from the humorous to the heartbreaking and make for inspiring reading, he says.

As the authors note, surgical training and practice are challenging for all of us, but some of these difficulties are compounded by gender. Starting a family, for instance, creates specific obstacles for women in surgery simply because of the fact that they are child bearers. As a result, women surgeons have had to give more thought to whether and when to have children. Several authors opted not to have children. For those who did – once the babies arrived new challenges emerged.

Many women in the book also recount their encounters with sexism, ranging from the subtle to the blatant. Some gender stereotypes, on the hand, actually seem to have worked in favor of these women surgeons. Many of their patients say that women surgeons are better communicators and more empathetic than their male counterparts.

In fact, most of the authors point to many men surgeons who were willing to give women an opportunity to train at their institutions and who fostered the professional development of all their trainees – regardless of gender.

Most surgeons, including the women who share their stories in this collection, say that they didn’t choose surgery so much as it chose them. They knew from the first time they witnessed an operation that they wanted to be surgeons. As one author writes, “There is only one requirement to be a truly great surgeon – passion. You have to love it with your heart and soul.”

Anyone who agrees with that statement – male or female – will surely enjoy reading Being a Woman Surgeon, and hopefully, this book will make its way into the hands of medical students and encourage more women to pursue a surgical career. We need them now more than ever, emphasizes Dave. Imagine if we are not making the optimum search for the best of surgeon material in all of the potential talent pool, men and women put together, how much are we denying the humanity from its rightful healing touch?

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