By Kathy Castor
In 2009, Tampa surgeon Dr. Sharona Ross launched the Women in Surgery initiative at the University of South Florida. Ross was troubled that so few bright, motivated female medical school students chose surgery as their specialty area. She is committed to turning that around.
More than half of students in medical school are women. However, of the 160,000 surgeons in the United States, only about 19 percent are women. An often-cited survey by University of Vermont researchers found that women are deterred from choosing surgery as a career path because of a perception that a "male culture" exists in surgery, fueled by a perception of gender discrimination and that surgery is essentially an "old boys' network."
As America's population grows and grays, we need more primary care physicians serving our neighbors. New incentives have been enacted to encourage more medical school students to become primary care physicians, those doctors on the front lines of health care. We also need to steer more medical school students toward surgery, and we need to make the field more enticing to young women.
From May 31 to June 2, USF Health, Tampa General Hospital and Johns Hopkins University will team up to offer the third annual International Women in Surgery Career Symposium. The seminars have been held in the Tampa Bay area in the past. This year, Baltimore will play host. The goal is to promote the personal and professional growth of women in surgery. Participants will have an opportunity to develop mentor-mentee relationships and hear from women in surgery who have figured out how to make it work and feel comfortable in this male-dominated field.
Undergraduate students who think medicine and a surgical career path may be of interest should consider attending. Current medical school students should give it a look as well. Students just might meet someone who inspires them to pursue a career in the operating room.
"Unless we encourage more women to enter the field, very soon we will have a shortage of surgeons nationwide," Ross said. The Women in Surgery Career Symposium, she told me, is the largest of its kind.
Any profession, medical and health included, benefits from having a diverse work force, as people of different races, genders and backgrounds bring unique experiences that can help those they serve. In a medical setting, patients could benefit from having the expertise of female surgeons in the operating room. While the skill set is the same, a female surgeon might have a different style of working or talking to a patient or a patient's family. Different experiences and perspectives help further the education and decision-making process of any profession. Ultimately, having more female surgeons will make the surgery profession better and advance patient care.
The University of Vermont researchers found that women are not more likely than men to be deterred from a career in surgery because of the demanding lifestyle, workload issues or lack of role models. What deters women more than men is the perception that surgery is a male culture and the perception of gender discrimination. Let's work together to change these damaging perceptions and ensure women who are interested in surgery have the ability to flourish in this competitive and important field of medicine.