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ATTN: Kim Cox Women in surgery

Discussion in 'Clinical Rotations' started by snowballz, Feb 15, 2002.

  1. snowballz

    snowballz Senior Member 7+ Year Member

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    This question is really for any woman in surgery. I just finished reading "A woman in a Surgeons Body" a few hours ago. This book portrayed a glass ceiling in surgery. Women were chastized for being overly aggressive and masculine and denied opportunities, however, on the other hand, being feminine gave even fewer opportunities and many overtly feminine surgeons were pushovers..so in essence, women in surgery are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

    Is there sexism in surgery? Has anyone noticed a difference in the way peers, subordinates and even nurses react to a female surgeon?

    Alicia
     
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  3. tussy

    tussy Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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    I am a PGY1 in general surgery. I am lucky in that my program has had many women go thru ahead of me, in fact my year is 50% women. I have been treated as a complete equal by my staff (there is only 1 staff female surgeon in the hospital here, the rest all men). As for nurses - most are quite good, a few are treatened and don't respect your authority as much as they would that of a male resident. The worst i find are the medical students - i get much less respect from the clerks than do my male counterparts. Also frustrating is the idea that if you're a women in surgery than you must be a bitch. I get the comment all the time "you're too nice to be a surgery resident", or "you're going to turn into a bitch by the time you're done your residency". Most patients are fine with having a female surgeon, but a few can't accept the concept and refer to you as the "surgery nurse" or something like that.

    Overall, i think the days of the "boys club" are ending. I think things do vary from program to program so it's important to talk to female residents at the programs where you interview.

    good luck
     
  4. Voxel

    Voxel Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

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    I overheard a resident in surgery once say, that the guys cannot tell dirty jokes and make off comments like they usually do when the women surgeons are around. This is what really irritated this one resident I knew. Otherwise, he said technically women were competent, but the fun factor of being at work went way down.
     
  5. SimulD

    SimulD Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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    So the fun factor of work is generally making dirty jokes and saying off-color comments? And that is the male contribution to 'fun' at work? ... sheesh, wonder why women aren't sick of us yet ...

    This wasn't meant at you Voxel, I've heard that before, too.

    Good luck ... it will be a good 10-15 years before the old guard is dead and gone, and this profession can act somewhat normal ...

    Simul
     
  6. Voxel

    Voxel Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

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    Nov 5, 2001
    No offense taken. It's not really my opinion, but that of a surgery resident I once worked with while doing my surgery rotation. I believe women are just as competent as men in surgery.
     
  7. Winged Scapula

    Winged Scapula Cougariffic! Staff Member Chief Administrator Administrator Physician Faculty Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 15+ Year Member

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    My experiences mirror those of tussy's. I too have been told numerous times "you're too nice to be a..." and "women surgeons are well known to be bitches...it will happen to you too" (this even coming from my boyfriend, a fellow surgical resident). Another resident here was reportedly told she was "too soft" by some senior residents and needed to toughen up. None of my fellow residents or faculty have approached me with that sentiment.

    While I have had no overt problems with the nurses there are some whom I suspect take my orders less seriously than the male residents or who act suspiciously like they are threatened around me, but these tend to be few and far between (or else I am oblivious to it). And of course, you will ALWAYS have patients (even the young ones) who think you are the nurse - then again, my fellow male intern on service this month keeps getting called the medical student whereas I am assumed to be the senior resident.

    I don't notice anyone censoring their dirty jokes around me - perhaps its because I tell a few myself. The MAIN problem some of the male residents and faculty have with female residents is that there have been SOME who have tried to use their gender to get special priviledges - ie, using menstrual symptoms to get extra time off, saying that people are being unfair to them because they are female, etc. Even if it were true, no one respects someone who tries to use their gender to their advantage.

    I have not experienced the pervasive glass ceiling portrayed in 'Woman in a Surgeon's Body" but then again, I am at the beginning of my career. Our Department Chair has asked for help in trying to recruit more women to our program, with 50% being the target. We've had several informal get togethers with female residents and faculty for the medical students, trying to encourage women in surgery. It remains to be seen if we pick up more applicants in future years because of it, but there are several medical students who are interested.

    At any rate, surgery like most male dominated fields, does have those who will try to discourage you and make things more difficult for you. Some of these people will be fellow residents, some faculty and some allied health people. You have to decide whether or not your interest in the field is enough to withstand it - surely at some programs the experience will be worse than mine, but overall surgery, like medicine in general, is just getting used to the idea of having "girls" around...they just damn well have to.
     
  8. I agree, women would be a drag to work around.
     
  9. snowballz

    snowballz Senior Member 7+ Year Member

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    Thank you to everyone whom replied, espeically those involved in surgical residencies.

    I'm just an undergrad, so I have no clue what type of medicine I will end up practicing. I was just curious about other womens experiences.

    Growing up with two older brothers and learning to swear, tell dirty jokes (and listen to them!) I don't think I'd have much difficulty. (I got beat up physically and verbally! <img border="0" title="" alt="[Wink]" src="wink.gif" /> ) I think and hope I'm mentally tough. But like I said, I may not like surgery.

    But to those who did reply, what does it take to be a female surgeon? Does aggressiveness and toughness fit into that description? This may seem like a dumb question, but can female surgeons be sensitive and kind in their practice? Are those qualities found alot? Do you get to deal a great deal with the patients? I am doing pediatric volunteer work and am really enjoying dealing with the patients. I want to do work where I can be kind and actually help children. Can you do that in peds surgery?

    Thanks again,

    Alicia
     
  10. dr.evil

    dr.evil Senior Member Physician 7+ Year Member

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    Oct 30, 2001
    Pretty good thread with wisdom from women surgeons. I'm male so I don't have the first hand experience Kimberli & Tussy have but...

    I truly believe general surgery is really coming along with women in residencies. On the other hand, some surgical specialties such as Ortho and Urology are still pretty much boy's clubs. Of course, if you are female and want to do Ortho or Urology, you've got an advantage to obtain the residency but will have to endure being an "odd duck" until they're used to women in the field.

    I will leave your other questions for Kimberli and tussy but overall, there really is no one type of personality to be a successful surgeon. Peds surg is a different world. It's a little bureaucracy with parents, patients, and often time nursing staff (sometimes the nurses get the parents to ask you for certain things that they know you are against; my experience of course). Much of medicine will allow you to be kind and actually help children (peds, family, pedi subspecialties, peds surg, etc.)

    Anyway, it's good your looking to the future but go into med school with an open mind for specialty choices. 3rd year of medical school is pretty eye-opening.
     
  11. tussy

    tussy Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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    </font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Originally posted by snowballz:
    <strong>But to those who did reply, what does it take to be a female surgeon? Does aggressiveness and toughness fit into that description? This may seem like a dumb question, but can female surgeons be sensitive and kind in their practice? Are those qualities found alot? Do you get to deal a great deal with the patients? I am doing pediatric volunteer work and am really enjoying dealing with the patients. I want to do work where I can be kind and actually help children. Can you do that in peds surgery?

    Thanks again,

    Alicia</strong></font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">There are plenty of opportunities in general surgery to interact with patients. I can't even begin to recall the number of times this year that i've told patients that they have cancer, told young people that they have crohn's disease, tell someone they need an operation or they could die, discussed end of life issues with patients and their families, etc. In surgery you not only operate, but you have to assess patients and care for them before and after their surgery. You are the one who is there during the worst times of their life, when they are sick, afraid, and in pain. All surgeons should be kind and caring and good communicators in order to be good at their jobs.

    AS for being tough and aggressive, that is something that is necessary also. You can be those things and be caring at the same time. Surgery is a tough residency, and you have to have a thick skin to survive. You have to be aggressive, because your patients are often very sick and you have to make quick decisions and be a leader for the rest of the health care team.

    I never thought i was cut out to be a surgeon, but i absolutely love it and it am striving with the stress.
     
  12. squeek

    squeek Senior Member 7+ Year Member

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    Jan 21, 2002
    THANK YOU for this thread. I, too, read "A Woman in a Surgeon's Body," and was quite discouraged. I am an MSII who has considered surgery for many years, and I've been told numerous times the same "You're too nice to be a surgeon," (although I am admittedly a horrific perfectionist) and at times I've let it sway me. Granted, I have yet to do my rotations, but I've spent time working in hospitals and ORs, and I enjoyed it. So I definitely appreciate your encouragement.

    One question--what are the hours like? I've heard many different things. I do not want children, but I am married and hope to pursue a concomitant (albeit secondary to medicine) career in art. Will I, in your opinion, be able to have a full life outside of work? (especially once residency is done)?
     
  13. surg

    surg 10+ Year Member

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    Dec 16, 2001
    First a resource:

    <a href="http://www.womensurgeons.org/" target="_blank">http://www.womensurgeons.org/</a>

    This is the homepage for the Association of Women Surgeons. Anyone woman going into surgery should consider ordering their Pocket Mentor (It's free)or look at it online under the publications link. It's old and dated and contains some quite frankly sexist advice (Don't sleep with your senior resident, carry feminine products in your bag, etc.) but its a good insight into what they thought women should know at the time (last updated in the mid 90s I think).

    Not being a woman, I can only give you my view and the views of some of my women surgical friends. Being a woman in surgery can be frustrating sometimes, some people will act differently towards you are around you, but that's the breaks. In general, my women co-residents tell me that they get the "nurse" reference periodically, but have learned to shake it off. Glass ceiling? Maybe, since very few chairmen around the country are actually women (maybe 1 or 2 at major programs and that's it), but I've heard more and more women being mentioned to fill the empty seats around the country (keep in mind that most of them have less seniority than a lot of men in surgery just by the sheer numbers).
    Advice for those women medical students (and pre-meds) thinking about surgery? 1) If you want it, go for it. You can make a great career in surgery as a woman, and surgery is one of the more meritocratic specialties in my opinion. Skill goes a long way towards respect, period. 2) Find a mentor if you can, even a male mentor. Their support will help you get you through the inevitable rough times.
    Will you hear dirty jokes and inappropriate comments along the way? Yes. Ignore those of us men who just don't seem to get it, you can succeed without us. :) Good luck. Don't let the embittered dissuade you from your future.
     
  14. Devdas

    Devdas Senior Member 7+ Year Member

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    Yankee Town
    squeek said </font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">hope to pursue a concomitant(albeit secondary to medicine)career in art </font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">I think surgery itself is an ART! :D
     
  15. Winged Scapula

    Winged Scapula Cougariffic! Staff Member Chief Administrator Administrator Physician Faculty Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 15+ Year Member

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    </font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Originally posted by snowballz:
    <strong>But to those who did reply, what does it take to be a female surgeon? Does aggressiveness and toughness fit into that description? This may seem like a dumb question, but can female surgeons be sensitive and kind in their practice? Are those qualities found alot? Do you get to deal a great deal with the patients? I am doing pediatric volunteer work and am really enjoying dealing with the patients. I want to do work where I can be kind and actually help children. Can you do that in peds surgery?

    Thanks again,

    Alicia</strong></font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">I believe a certain amount of toughness is required in any male dominated profession. Mind you, I DO NOT believe that toughness equates to a lack of emotions (and lets please not get into a discussion of my earlier post where I mentioned that I had ONCE shed some tears after a particularly humiliating experience - it was rather insulting to be labeled as being in the wrong field because of this, especially since I never mentioned exactly what was said to me or what had transpired before...but I digress). I believe you must be assertive but you do not have to be aggressive necessarily. You should be confident - a desirable trait in most, but especially if you are planning on doing an invasive, most likely painful, procedure on a patient. So act confident - even if you aren't.

    Of course surgeons can be kind and sensitive in their practice. I have seen many. It is true that female surgeons have the reputation of being less so, but their numbers are growing and it is my belief that we will see a kinder and gentler field because of it. No one wants you to be unkind or insentive to patients - it might be the stereotype, but I am sure you will also be evaluated on such attributes during your training.

    I spend most of my day with patients - on morning rounds, in the OR, in clinic and of course, on call at night. Most of the time I spend with the patients they are awake and alert (ie, as I am responsible for most of the floor work with patients). Pediatric surgery does help children but I think you will find it MUCH different than you expect. Much of what you do to the children is seemingly unkind - both to them and their parents. You are obviously trying to help them, but your motives are often understood because they either cause pain to the child or the child expects pain and because distraught at your mere presence. Much of your time will be spent with the parents - sometimes rewarding, oftentimes frustrating - parents who don't want to "bother you" will wait with a question all day and then ask to have you paged at midnight because they just couldn't sleep without the answer; parents who freak out at every intervention made on their child's behalf; parents who manipulate their child or parents who just don't give a damn. Once you do a pediatrics rotation - whether surgical or not, you will instantly see what I mean. If you can handle the parents and the work, then perhaps pediatric surgery is for you but it means a lifetime of dealing with unhappy children. Not for me, thank you.

    As you enter medical school you will most likely find a field which will fulfill you and beckon you. Best of luck to you...
     
  16. Winged Scapula

    Winged Scapula Cougariffic! Staff Member Chief Administrator Administrator Physician Faculty Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 15+ Year Member

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    </font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Originally posted by squeek:
    <strong>
    One question--what are the hours like? I've heard many different things. I do not want children, but I am married and hope to pursue a concomitant (albeit secondary to medicine) career in art. Will I, in your opinion, be able to have a full life outside of work? (especially once residency is done)?</strong></font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">The vary widely - both during residency and afterwards. It depends on the program and specialty you have chosen. I've worked as much as 130 hours per week and as little as 72 (including call). I frankly would have a hard time during residency to pursue much more than doing my housework chores and seeing my loved ones, but we all make certain things our priority.

    Once you finish residency you can vary your hours based on the field, the environment (ie, urban academic center, HMO, Surgicenter, etc.) and just plain ingenuity. SOme surgical specialties like Plastics, ENT and Urology tend to have better lifestyles and fewer hours, more benign call. Others, lie Trauma and CT have pretty crappy hours and unpredictable. Our attendings here still work at least 72 hours per week on the average - some more if they take Trauma call and have to come in, and others less - depends on seniority, field and business of service/acuity of patient load.

    If you are satisfied with working at a SurgiCenter you can have much better hours than by working at an academic center.

    Hope this helps.
     
  17. snowballz

    snowballz Senior Member 7+ Year Member

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    Thanks everyone for the replies to this thread. I have been on the parent side of peds. I know what it's like. My daugther and I went through everything from ventilators to open heart surgery that culminated in her death. It's a horrible experience I wouldn't wish on anyone. I think when parents ask questions, it's to calm their own anxieties. When I had a question of a physician, it was because I was scared or nervous. I think one must understand the position of the parents, and even more so when their child is having surgery. But then again, I was never a bothersome mom. I understood the first time and if I did have a question, I'd wait till they came around again, as they inevitably did. Maybe some parents are different.

    But as I said earlier in the thread, I was only seeking viewpoints. I have no clue if I will want to go into surgery, or if I'd even enjoy it.

    Thanks again to the residents like Kim and tussy who took time to answer my questions.

    Alicia
     

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