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Interview by Dr. Mecker G. Möller . Translation by Dr. Luz María Rodriguez. Editing by Drs. Mecker G. Möller, Luz María Rodriguez, and Marie Crandall.
Could you give a review on how you managed to accomplish such a high level of leadership and give advice to other women who wish to follow in your footsteps?
In addition to being the first female bariatric surgeon in Bolivia, another accomplishment that has made me known in my country is being one of the first Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) instructors. Both these endeavors have allowed me to demonstrate to my colleagues my dedication to my work. I have also been a part of numerous board positions for the Surgical Society.
Furthermore, I have attended various conferences in my country and have actively participated in the scientific portions as well as in the administrative meetings.I am the founder of the bariatric surgery committee in Bolivia of which I was recognized as the national president. I have been president of the Bolivian society of surgery in the Santa Cruz Chapter. All of the aforementioned efforts led to my election as president of Sociedad boliviana de cirugia. The best advice I can give to any surgeon who wishes to follow in my footsteps is to demonstrate commitment in everything that they propose to carry out until the task is completed.
During your training, did you find mentors who have guided or inspired you to achieve your goals?
Starting my residency in an environment that was dominated mostly by men was not easy; however, as I gained their respect and trust, I was able to find excellent mentors. Once I graduated, I found a great surgeon, who truly inspired me and introduced me to the ATLS. I applied this methodology to my daily life in order to continue achieving all my goals step by step.
What is the percentage of female applicants to medical schools and how many of these apply to surgical careers?
I do not have the exact data, but I do recognize that more and more women in my country are currently enrolled in medical schools. I have also noticed that the number of female residents in surgery also increases each year. Recently, we have also successfully created a group of the female surgeons from all of Bolivia, Mujeres cirjuanas de Bolivia.
How many bariatric surgeons exist in Bolivia?
We are currently 5 bariatric surgeons in different cities of Bolivia. However, only 2 or 3 of us are clinically active.
What type of methodology do you consider or use in order to teach medical students and residents during the clinical practices and within the operating room?
The best advice I can give these students is for them to grasp the courses of Advanced Trauma Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, and Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support as these are able to teach them methodologies that can be applied to all aspects of surgery, and life itself.
Are there still stigma or social barriers upon women surgeons in Bolivia, and what alternatives do you consider possible as a way to overcome these barriers? Did you personally find some of these barriers and how were you able to overcome them?
For me, these barriers began breaking the moment I gained the respect and trust of my colleagues by showing them my commitment to the job, my academic endeavors, and my determination to always surpass my own accomplishments.
What is the perception of the public with regards to the competence of female surgeons in your country?
In Bolivia, there are still social barriers that exist towards women surgeons, especially when society expects the male figure to assume the role of a surgeon. These barriers and stigmas will break once society is able to see female surgeons as responsible and focused professionals.
What programs exist in Bolivia to help women surgeons who are also mothers or heads of families to avoid ‘burnout’ or give up on their careers?
None. These are not even considered for any professional career women in a leadership position.
How do you achieve balance between your career and your responsibilities at home? Do you have support at home regarding your role as a mother or in your personal projects/hobbies?
Being able to balance my profession with my personal life and my different roles (mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, etc.) was very difficult and I had to sacrifice many things. However, I had the constant support of my parents, siblings and husband which facilitated my ability to pursue my profession without neglecting my responsibilities at home.
Are there leadership differences between female and male surgeons?
Female surgeons are more attentive to details. As women, we also tend to be more maternal which is an advantage as we continuously strive to find a benefit for all those involved; sometimes often leaving behind our own personal interests.
What is your vision as president of the Bolivian Society of Surgery in order to incorporate more female surgeons in areas of leadership?
Part of my vision as president of the College of Surgeons in Bolivia is to support training for all female surgeons, help them be well-prepared and empower them to achieve more leadership positions at a national and international level.
What opportunities do you think we could explore in order to create a collaboration for training young female surgeons into a global standpoint?
I believe that together with the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS), we would help many female surgeons in the world recognize that they are not alone and that many others share similar experiences. The lessons that are presented through the collaboration between AWS and Bolivian Society of Surgery inspire and empower young female surgeons to acknowledge that surgery is no longer a field exclusively for male surgeons.
Dr. Luz Maria Rodriguez is a board certified general surgeon and a dual fellowship trained surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon. She works at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Division of Cancer Prevention (DCP). Prior to joining the DCP she spent nearly a decade as a translational physician-scientist in the Genetics Branch at the NCI. Her lab studied genome-wide gene expression profiles in colonic mucosa of populations at risk. This expression profiling created a foundation for biomarkers of early colon cancer detection and prevention. She developed a Clinical Cancer Genetics Program devoted to risk surveillance, assessment, genetic testing, counseling, prevention and targeted intervention for individuals at increased risk for specific cancers. These protocols involved testing and the identification of biomarkers that might be candidate for intermediates endpoints in treatment and prevention trials.
At DCP, Dr. Rodriguez supports ongoing clinical trial efforts of the NCI Division of Cancer Prevention Early Phase 0-II prevention trials through protocol development, scientific review, strategic planning. DCP’s early phase clinical trials fill the void between preclinical studies and Phase III. The Early Phase trials places emphasis on intervention effects on at-risk tissue-intensive tissue collections (e.g. biopsies), invasive biomarker monitoring. Dr. Rodriguez oversees chemopreventive and treatment trials in organ sites such as the liver, pancreas, stomach, and colon using study agents such as vaccines, and drug agents such as Simvastatin, Berberine, Curcumin, Metformin, Erlotinib and Aspirin. She also serves as a consultant nationally and internationally with various scientific and clinical groups with special focus on health disparity with the hope of narrowing the gap in cancer intervention.
Dr. Rodriguez is a Senior Faculty and Surgeon at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) and Walter Reed Military Medical Center (WRMMC) for the past 17 years serving domestic and foreign military families in the area of GI diseases, pelvic floor disorders, soft tissue sarcoma and breast disease. She also trains medical students, residents and fellows in surgery, oncology and cancer prevention.
Mecker G. Möller, MD,FACS is a surgical oncologist and Associate Professor of Surgery at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She is the Leader of the peritoneal surface malignancy HIPEC program at University of Miami Hospital and the Associate Program Director Breast Surgical Oncology Fellowship. Dr Möller did her general surgery residency at Michigan State University and surgical oncology fellowship at USF/Moffitt Cancer Center . She is a member of the ACS international board of governors, member of the commission on cancer committee of the Florida Chapter and publications committee of the AWS.
Dr. Monica Vera
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