The Secret World of Women Surgeons You Had No Idea Existed


Somewhere near the end of my eight years of surgical training, I was operating with an older female attending surgeon. We were exchanging stories about the traumatic yet awesome experiences of residency.

“Surgery made a man out of me,” she chuckled.

We finished the operation and I headed home later that day.

I thought about the magnitude of that statement. She didn’t need to explain the masculinization that had occurred through her surgical residency — I totally got it. As a female surgeon 25 years my senior, hers had certainly been a more grueling experience, with no work hours regulations and a significantly more cutthroat environment than the current, more closely monitored world of surgical training today.

Since the Bell Commission implementation in New York in 1989 and the Institute of Medicine report in 1999 “To Err is Human,” restrictions have been placed on resident work hours, sleep requirements and patient hand-offs. But don’t get me wrong — surgical residency today is still grueling. Anyone who has watched Grey’s Anatomy would agree with that, however exaggerated or inaccurate Hollywood portrayals may be. And despite roughly one-third of women accounting for surgery residency positions these days, it is still very much a man’s field.

I was the only woman in my graduating class of six from a highly competitive general surgery training program just a few years ago. But that was my decision. I had chosen to be smack in the middle of an aggressive, male-dominated field for those eight years.

Was I, too, somehow more masculine now that I’d been through surgical training? Did I lose my femininity through training, or perhaps was I always less feminine because I had chosen surgery as a career?

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of surgeons are men. A woman in scrubs walking —> Read More