By Shree Agrawal
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Sheryl Sandberg’s “leaning in” has been featured, referenced, or adapted for most women in medicine/surgery events I have attended in the past year, and for good reason. Five years later, her TED talk and Lean In book continuously remind me of the complex issues we face, as women, in all environments—professional and personal.
In leading my own medical school chapter of the Association of Women Surgeons*, my personal and professional interactions with my female peers have highlighted the fears many female medical students have about “leaning in” to a potential career in surgery. When talking about finding mentors, exploring research opportunities, seeking shadowing experiences, or other issues surrounding a future surgical career, I usually hear a variety of responses:
- “I am afraid of wasting a mentor’s time, especially if I eventually choose a different area of medicine.”
- “I just do not have much experience with research and I may not meet the expectations of a PI.”
- “I have come to terms with the fact that I want to become a surgeon, unfortunately. I am afraid now I will have to sacrifice my personal life in the future.”
- “I am nervous about being in an OR. I do not know what I should be doing or where I need to go. Maybe I will just wait until our clinical rotations to explore surgery.”
It is clear in these statements—not only do we “negative speak” about our capabilities and goals but also we negatively consider the perceived time and resources of potential mentors or professors. We are more likely to hesitate about leaning in to surgery for fear of failing, exhausting resources, and being perceived as incompetent. These fears only manifest in the 2014 AAMC statistics which report only 25-30% of total surgical trainees to be female physicians, excluding neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and thoracic surgery.
So for every level of training in medicine, how have you found ways to lean in, and what advice would you give to those who may be hesitant about exploring surgical subspecialties?
Shree Agrawal is a member of the AWS Medical Student Committee and is a second year medical student at Case Western Reserve University. She is passionate about clinical research surrounding patient decision-making and medical education.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.