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Are Women in Surgery a Different Class!!!

October 21, 2019

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We had a “Women in surgery” seminar with “Patricia L Turner” who came all the way from US as a representative of American College of Surgeons. The girls attending the seminar shared that they formed 50 percent of the workforce in Rashid Hospital Surgery department. The students of Mohammed Bin Rashid University highlighted that the women to men ratio in their batch of medical college was 70:30.

It just took me reminiscing to three decades back when in my medical college the women force formed half the class, may be more. It was a kind of unsaid practice amongst the middle-class parents in India, “boys took engineering and girls took medical” and the parents took great pride in the fact that they have nurtured their own girls into something!!

In 1997, I joined a reputed institution for surgery residency through an All India Examination and a rank in two figures, little did I know and realize within a week’s time that fifty percent of my colleagues were girls or ladies. And our registrars were more than glad, because they thought ladies are very sincere. Not only us, most of the lecturers were ladies; and continued to be so for the next four years.

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So, what changed, or has something changed over the last four decades. Perhaps yes!! One is an acknowledgment that we exist! Then comes the success through struggle or otherwise to be able to rise up the ranks and deliver and last but not the least comes the admiration from the people who joined in later who may have been inspired or at least had the reassurance to know that the same desire and the fire in belly was there in many more all around the world. All had similar stories to share; all had similar choices to make; all had similar desire to break free and to prove if not to someone else but to themselves that they can.

The tribe grew stronger and stronger year by year as we stand shoulder to shoulder and claim to have an even exposure and equally even skill set, and deserve an equal allowance, an equal opportunity, an equal platform compared to men. No, we do not ask for a “privilege” to be of a different gender neither do we ask for a reservation or a special treatment.

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What we ask ourselves is “Are we equal?”
When there is a surgical disaster in the OR or ER, or ward can we respond as well as they do. Or are we limited by our physical in-adeptness or unavailability due to other commitments to family or otherwise?
We ask When there is a case which is complicated and needs an evaluation and attention; can we deal with as good as they do! Or are we limited by our lack of experience and training.
We ask when there is a need for an authority or a command in a surgical scenario; are we recognized and respected enough or ridiculed for our lack of physical form, height, stature or even the baritone of the voice.
We ask when there is need for communication to the patient or convincing the patients, are we acknowledged for our capabilities or are subject to prejudice and preconceived notions.
We ask “when we have a similar experience and depth of knowledge for presentation in a conference; are we left on shorelines for not having a mentor who would recommend our name for a live surgery or a faculty position.

The struggles come in all forms to this gender not just in surgery but in all streams of life at work place. The solution is to recognize our weaknesses and work towards making them easier. We need to upgrade our craft and skill set; need to improve the confidence and presentation; need to learn to take control of a situation without bias or fear; need to generate flexibility in our schedules and have added help to make ourselves available when needed; we need to develop leadership and encourage role modeling; we need to conquer our misgivings and guilt for not being able to attend all functions at school or family; we need a commitment stronger than our desire to seek entitlement; and most important we need to take pride in our femininity.

Perhaps we have an added responsibility to be able to perform at both fronts and to communicate more in action than in words that though formidable it is definitely achievable. That sincerity, hard work and an intent to heal does not recognize the distinction between the “xx” or “xy” chromosome.

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The author of the article is a surgeon who graduated from Mumbai but is committed to women’s surgical health and is a laparoscopic surgeon based in Dubai, and strongly advocates raising the bar and setting a mark for all of her peer mainly through performance and zeal

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