By Susana Vargas-Pinto
I recently had a casual conversation about fellowship with one of our Chief residents who matched into cardiothoracic surgery, which lit up my curiosity and expectation. “It is a great experience that will bring growth and maturity, you should look forward to it”. These words came from an international medical graduate with a family, who didn’t match the previous year. How could this be such a great experience?
During my fellowship interview trail I met many successful women surgeons who shared some of their career experiences with me. Although still a minority, these well accomplished women overcame the obstacles in their journey and are now empowering younger surgeons in their career paths. While reflecting on this I was curious to know more about the first female physician in the USA and her own journey. Was it different from ours? Since Elizabeth Blackwell made history as the first female earning a medical degree from Geneva Medical College in Western New York in 1849, women continue to face challenges in their medical careers. Dr Blackwell held firm despite the prejudices of the time, lack of peer support and the financial struggles of establishing a clinical practice in New York City. The New York Infirmary for Women and Children served the underserved for over a century when it merged with the present Lower Manhattan Hospital in 1981. Dr Blackwell never fulfilled the dream of becoming a surgeon after contracting an eye infection while working as a midwife resulting in unilateral vision loss. Nevertheless, she opened a way for other women to become physicians when she founded the Women’s Medical College of New York and its affiliated hospital and by remaining faculty at the London School of Medicine for Women, also founded in collaboration with one of her mentees.
In 2017, women composed 50.7% of medical students matriculants according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Women represented only 38.2 % of surgical residents and 23 % of full-time General Surgery faculty members in the United States in 2015. Issues like parity and hostile work environments remain present 169 years later. We may not need to leave the country after obtaining a medical degree to practice as a midwife in Europe like Dr Blackwell did, but there are many challenges to face.
Like Dr Blackwell, many women kept thriving, opening doors for those of us who embrace the journey to become a surgeon in the 21st century. They give to us, create new opportunities and reciprocation. When we invest in others our vision grows. The opportunity to influence the medical community over time and making a lasting impact does not rely on one individual but rather on the leaders they create. Dr Blackwell exemplifies the legacy of a successful leader which transcends over time after great adversity. By continuing to open doors for the next generation of female surgeons we ensure that our vision will expand beyond our own and change will continue to happen.Susana.jpg
Dr. Susana Vargas-Pinto was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. She then earned her Medical Doctorate from Ponce Health Sciences University in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She is a Chief Resident at the General Surgery Residency Program at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, New York, and intends to pursue a career in Endocrine Surgery. She enjoys teaching and mentoring medical students. Dr. Vargas-Pinto is also a wife and mother of a 2 year old.
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.