I realized last week that I generally spend more time thinking that the “gender thing” in surgery is getting better, that we’re making some slow but steady progress. As of last month, we have 8 women chairs of surgery in the US (admittedly, I’m still eager for double-digits to happen). As of 2013-2014, 38% of surgery residents are women (critical mass!). Surgery is now #5 in terms of proportion of women in academic departments. In my own department, more than 1/2 of our new hires in the last two years have been women, which has changed the composition of both the division and the department substantially. I’m proud of that because the women who have joined us are all forces of nature (in a good way) and provide wonderful role models for students and residents who want to see how to “do” academic surgery and life gracefully.
And then…I have a week like last week, a week that I understand is a direct result of being a woman surgeon who has been in practice for a decade and who now has multiple leadership roles. At one early-morning meeting, I was the only woman at the table. During a PI meeting for a multicenter trial, the two women surgeons present were the PI (a dear friend from the burn sisterhood) and me. Then there was the email that went out to a leadership group I’m part of for the American College of Surgeons- and because my antenna were up from these meetings, I realized I was the only woman on the email who wasn’t staff.
Surgery still has the 2nd lowest number of full-time women faculty of any specialty documented by the AAMC at 22%. Our orthopedic colleagues continue in the cellar with 16%. And while I revel in those 8 women chairs of surgery I mentioned before, if you look at the number of surgery departments out there that’s not a large proportion of departmental leadership. I want to be completely clear about the fact that I am happy and honored to be “the” woman surgeon in the room/ on the email because I do not believe I am there as a token placeholder. I just am still sometimes surprised that in 2015 it can still be a pretty lonely place to be a woman leader in academic surgery, and I’m reminded how much I rely on the women and the men who are ahead of me on this journey to make sure that I am (1) treated equitably and (2) given the opportunities that I earn.
Surgery is less of a man’s world than it was when I started my training 18 years ago, and I am delighted at the deserved recognition that my female and minority- and minority female!- colleagues are receiving. It’s clear to me, though, that we still have miles to go before we sleep to reach that place when my junior colleagues aren’t faced with being the “only” of a group in the room. And when we are still faced with those situations, it remains imperative that we carry ourselves with confidence and credibility. Most importantly, none of us can do this alone. Hard work and helping each other- that’s how we change the world, isn’t it?
Now listening: Kacey Musgraves “Good ol’ boys club”