An Open Letter to AWS Members from Communications Committee

22 Feb 2018
By Stephanie Bonne, Heather Yeo, Minerva Romero Arenas

Two years ago, a friend and mentor approached me and asked me to help manage the communications team for AWS. Like I do with most things, I approached this with gusto. I got organized, made lists, set up accounts, and enthusiastically began to partner with my co-chair, Dr. Yeo. It has been extraordinarily rewarding to plan, communicate, and interact with the AWS membership in a very daily and contemporary way – on social media and our blog.

But more has happened than just tweeting and sharing news. I’ve have learned much about our organization, and the enthusiastic, brilliant, and spectacular women that make up our membership. In the communications leadership, we really feel like we have our “finger on the pulse” of the women’s surgeons community. We see your comments, we share your triumphs, and we feel your pain on your down days. Through this process, we have come to know some of you on a more intimate level, by reading your thoughts in your emails and your blogs. We value your words to us and feel privileged to have a window into your very human experiences. Some of the submissions for our blog or newsletter are deeply and painfully intimate. We appreciate that women surgeons share with us their very personal times and their very personal challenges, and we thank each of you for your willingness to share those experiences.

There are times, however, when we cannot share this with our membership at large. We want to talk about the issues facing women surgeons, but we have the responsibility to be sensitive that our social media and web communications. We must always be mindful that we represent our organization in its professional capacity. The AWS blog, newsletter, and social media sites are carefully curated and edited material that is important and relevant to our readership, and present one face of our organization.

After serious and thoughtful consideration within the communications committee leadership, we have come to a consensus about setting limitations on the experiences shared and the manner in which they are shared on the AWS arenas (i.e., blog, social media, and newsletters). We encourage open discussion about the more serious issues we face, such as burnout, depression, harassment or frustration. While sometimes the private experiences of our membership are relevant to some, they may not serve the needs of all, or our format may not be the best venue through which to share them. We also cannot in good conscience, publish intimate accounts of these experiences which may trigger emotional reactions in our readership under the header of AWS. We feel it’s unfair to, without warning, publish something that could prompt a very emotional response in an otherwise unsuspecting reader. Furthermore, we are very sensitive about publishing material that is submitted anonymously. However, as an organization of support, if these types of pieces are submitted or published elsewhere, we do feel comfortable giving our support and offering resources for those who need them.

We thank all of you for your dedication to AWS, and your willingness to stand by the values we uphold: to engage and empower women surgeons to excel. Keep your material coming, as we are happy to consider all contributions to our efforts. We hope you understand when we make a difficult choice not to publish a specific piece. Thank you to all of you for your tremendous contributions, to yourselves, your colleagues and, most importantly, your patients.

If you are facing a challenging time in your life, please reach out for help. Here are some resources specifically aimed at helping physicians:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Federation of State Physician Health Programs
Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text TALK to 741741 .
ACGME Physician Well-being Tools & Resources
AMA Steps Forward
ACS Surgeon wellness test

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