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.
dent and the founder of the Association of Women
Surgeons; Barbara Lee Bass, MD, FACS, Past-Regent
and recipient of the College’s highest honor, the
Distinguished Service Award (DSA); and Julie Ann
Freischlag, MD, FACS, the first woman to chair the
ACS Board of Regents.
Other surgeons who contributed to this compendium also were the first women to assume leadership
positions within their institutions. Dr. Freischlag, for
example, was the first woman to head the department
of surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore,
and Mary Maniscalco-Theberge, MD, FACS, is the
first and only woman to have served as chief of the
department of surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical
Center, Washington, DC.
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 the
child bearers. As a result, women surgeons have had
to give more thought to whether and when to have
children. Indeed, some authors indicate that they
were asked why they should be accepted into a residency program or on staff at a hospital when they
would probably leave to have children and thereby
deny those opportunities to a man who, it was presumed, would be more likely to continue working
regardless of whether he chose to have children.
Several authors opted not to have children. Many
of the women who did decide to raise a family contin-
ued to operate until moments before their babies were
born, both due to their dedication to their patients
and in an effort to overcome any misconceptions
about their commitment to balancing their profes-
sional and personal lives. They tell stories of reaching
over their bellies to operate and going directly from
the operating room to the labor room.
Once the babies arrive, new challenges emerge.
Even since the American Board of Surgery passed
rules that residents were required to work only 48
clinical weeks per year— 46 in instances involving
maternity leave—surgical residency during a child’s
infancy can be grueling. On the other hand, it can
also make for some rather memorable anecdotes. For
example, one author describes using her breast pump
when the intercom went off announcing a code blue
on the surgical floor.
Many women in the book also recount their
encounters with sexism, ranging from the subtle
to the blatant. One woman tells of the time a male
surgeon refused to shake hands with her at a surgical meeting. Others recall hearing male colleagues
make sexist remarks in the hallways or hanging pictures of naked women in the rooms where residents
would rest when on call in the hospital. More recent
examples are subtler, such as physicians who only
refer women patients to women surgeons, exclusion
from certain meetings or events, being passed over
for promotions, and so on.
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.