Updated: Jan 22
Comically waddling down the halls of the bustling operating arena, my petite frame, enveloped in a strikingly oversized bunny-suit, was warmly greeted and escorted into Room O.R. 7. With unwavering confidence, I can say that my first knee-replacement surgery shattered my world.
Afro beats played in the background, nurses shimmied bloody clothes onto laboratory racks in tune with the vibrant cadence, and anesthesiologists discussed the weather forecast blunder. I for one, kept my eyes plastered on the candy-bar assortment of hefty metal tools that Dr. Sasson skillfully employed as he approached each distinct ligament, tendon, and bone on his crusade towards the patient’s knee. Exhilarated by the phenomenal teamwork and moved by the eternal serenity that permeated the air, I envisioned myself in Dr. Sasson’s surgical shoe coverings as a future Orthopaedic surgeon.
Several hours into the surgery, my euphoria dwindled to reveal an alarming truth: absolutely every single member of the surgical team was a towering, broad-shouldered, nearly-Herculean... male. Although externally I remained calm, as to not disturb the bone-sawing frenzy before me, internally, I was in complete and utter outrage!
Why is it that so many young girls aspire to become medical practitioners and restore the lives of many, yet not one woman was in this room beside me? Where have their aspirations gone so terribly wrong? What has happened between then and now? I wanted answers.
During my lunch break, I ravaged the internet to discover some disheartening statistics deciphering this disparity. According to the International Journal of Surgery Global Health, of all the surgeons in America, only a miniscule 19.2% are women, as of 2016. Even more gut-churning, only 6.5% of Orthopaedic surgeons are women (Chambers, C. C., Ihnow, S. B., Monroe, E. J., & Suleiman, L. I., 2018).
Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, this disproportion stems from a variety of obstacles aspiring female physicians face on their journeys. Frequently overlooked, society grooms young women to become child-bearers, making the highly demanding lifestyle of a surgeon seem unrealistic for many. Furthermore, women traversing the field of medicine are likely deterred by the male dominance in most surgical specialties and the unfavorable lack of female role-models. Most disturbing, however, is that even when female doctors are accepted into surgical training, many withdraw due to the ever-widening gender pay gap and lack of promotion, which I can attest to after hearing the stories of several female surgeons.
As a society, we must do better in cultivating the next generation of bright, enthusiastic, and passionate female surgeons. Empower the young girls in your life to explore the various STEM fields, enroll them in courses, take them to clubs, and most importantly, feed their curiosity. To all the young women zealous in pursuit of medicine, don’t be afraid to cold email that surgeon requesting a shadowing internship, take advantage of the clubs at your school, or make one yourself, and be a role-model for the next generation of girls. Let’s positively change this gender discrimination, once, and for all!