The times, they are a-changin’

With an announcement about Sandra Wong becoming the Surgery Chair at Dartmouth (congratulations, my friend!), we’ve reached a milestone for women surgical chairs:  She makes #10 currently. Ladies, we’ve hit double digits!

I started this post last week and needed to let the ideas percolate a bit, and now the time is perfect.  I wanted to talk a little bit about #ILookLikeaSurgeon and its impact, but what I really wanted to address is the commitment that we all need to make for the groundswell from #ILookLikeaSurgeon to make a real difference for our profession.

And here, I believe is the secret:  We need to learn to actively engage, even embrace,  those who are somehow different from us in our profession.  When I say different, that can mean almost anything- scholarly focus, age, hair color, gender, socioeconomic background, football allegiance, ethnicity, sexual identity, cat-owning status, the list is infinite.  You’ll notice I threw some less “serious” ones in there, and I did that quite deliberately- not to make you laugh, but to make you realize that when we commit acts of bias, they may or may not be well founded.  We should treat the fact that Joel is obsessed with sandwiches no differently than we treat my obsession with shoes.

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I’m a believer in “manageable” interventions.  While the outcome of what we do may result in something absolutely amazing, I will always ask my team for an incremental intervention (or two or five).  What are some incremental interventions to increase inclusion in surgery?  Here are a few, and none of them are that complicated.

  • Actively encourage women and minorities to apply for leadership roles and awards; it’s been documented in many fora that accomplished women and minorities simply don’t put their own name forward.  Leaders can directly lobby and promote high-quality candidates for various roles.  In addition, those leaders’ mediation of the process helps mitigate concerns that applicants may have about the perception that they are “pushy” or “bossy.”
  • Creating programs to support the career development of all surgeons.  Making sure that everyone has access to the same “rule book” about how to succeed in training and in academia or private practice, depending upon their choices.  What sort of specific activities would this include?
    • Transitions Q&A at various meetings for individuals moving from one career phase to the next
    • Topical and timely career issues fora
    • Networking venues, especially for mid-career folks (this can be a tough transition!)
    • Travel awards to get underrepresented groups to meetings and to the table
  • Holding meeting planners/ program committees accountable for insuring diversity in speakers.  There is no reason in this day and age for any surgical meeting to have a panel of only white males.  None.  For those on program committees, please commit to looking at your speaker lists and making sure that it is inclusive.  For those who are not on program committees and who notice at a meeting a lack of inclusion, say something (nicely, of course).
  • Education and advocacy on diversity and inclusion, something that #ILookLikeaSurgeon has started for us.  In particular, education about unconscious bias needs to be front and center. If you haven’t done any reading on this topic, I strongly encourage you to do so.  While we can’t get rid of bias, if we are cognizant of our biases, we can at least manage them.


I’m proud of the fact that when I look at my list of mentees it is incredibly diverse, and I want to believe that those numbers actually count (thus my emphasis on inclusion rather than diversity).  Part of that has been accidental and is truly based on who I am and how I was raised, and I’m grateful to my parents for that.  Part of that is because I love being challenged by people who hold different ideas and perspectives than I do because they make me better at what I do and how I do it.  And I’ll admit, part of it has been absolutely intentional.  I’ve looked for people who I believe are talented and taken them under my wing- and they have almost invariably proven to me that with the right support they can excel.

My challenge to you is to make a commitment to choose one small thing that you can do to help promote inclusion in surgery.  If you’re a resident, it may mean looking for a medical student to mentor.  If you are junior faculty, look for a resident to bring along and to sponsor.  If you’re mid career and above, we’ve got to be the BIG part of the solution- and that means creating and sustaining programs to make us all better.