Celebrating our Past, Transforming our Future: Reflections on making the AWS 40th anniversary celebration video

14 Oct 2021

By Tiffany J Sinclair, MD

As a member of the AWS Residents and Fellows committee, I had the privilege of putting together a video in celebration of AWS’s 40th anniversary that will be presented at the upcoming conference. I am by no means a professional video editor, but it is one of my hobbies and I was excited to have the opportunity to pay homage to our wonderful organization. In honor of the conference’s theme “Celebrating our Past, Transforming our Future,” several other members of the committee and I decided to interview a few of our past presidents for the video. We wanted to hear about their favorite AWS memories, their most meaningful experiences, and their thoughts on where our organization is headed in the future. 

In total, we interviewed five of our past presidents: Drs. Patricia Numann, Margaret Dunn, Leigh Neumayer, Beth Sutton, Myriam Curet, as well as our current president Dr. Marie Crandall. As I listened to their stories and watched the videos of the interviews conducted by others, I was once again blown away by the trails that these amazing women blazed. It was remarkable to hear so many of them say that they had never met another woman surgeon before attending one of the first informal breakfasts, which began in 1981 and were  held at the ACS Clinical Congress. For many women, these breakfasts were their only opportunity to interact with other women surgeons. While we’re a long way from achieving gender parity in surgery, these are experiences that very few female trainees have today.

I was impressed by their stories of how the organization officially came into being in 1986 and how much they accomplished in a few short years; how they took a few women gathering for breakfast to a full-fledged organization with influence in the surgical community. These ladies were the masterminds behind getting the first women elected and appointed to positions of leadership within our field – to the ACS Board of Governors, the Board of Regents, and the American Board of Surgery. Our founding president, Dr. Numann, was even elected as President of the College in 2011, becoming only the second woman to ever hold this prestigious position. By banding together and supporting each other, they were all uplifted. This is a lesson that endures time and one we could all do well never to forget. 

As we concluded each of the interviews, we asked our past presidents what they thought the future holds for AWS. While it’s clear that women have come a long way in establishing our rightful presence within the surgical community, they all shared a similar sentiment – we still have a long way to go. We must actively recruit individuals who are under-represented in medicine to surgical specialties. We must continue to promote women, and especially minority women, into positions of power. We must ensure that our trainees are learning in an environment free from discrimination and surrounded by mentors and colleagues that “look like them.” All of this is essential to providing optimal patient care, reducing disparities in access to care, and fostering role models for tomorrow’s leaders. If our past is any indicator, the future of AWS looks bright.

I am proud to be part of an organization that has paved the way for us young female surgeons and is committed to addressing and correcting the inequities that have plagued medicine, and in particular surgery, from time immemorial. I hope you will be joining us for the upcoming conference being held virtually on October 16th and 17th where we will continue the discussion of how AWS can contribute to the ongoing betterment of our surgical community. I could only capture a fraction of AWS’s rich history and contributions to the field of surgery in a 17-minute video, but I think it embodies our essence – an organization that encourages women surgeons to engage, empower, and excel.

Tiffany Sinclair, MD is a general and endocrine surgeon. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her general surgery residency at Stanford Health Care in 2020. She graduated from her fellowship in endocrine surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in July 2021. She hopes to pursue a career in academic surgery. Her research interests include medical student and resident education and fertility among women surgeons. She is the ACS Resident and Associate Society liaison to the Women in Surgery Committee and an active member of AWS, the AWS Communications Committee, and the Blog Sub-committee. You can find her on Twitter: @thefancysurgeon.

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.