Becoming a Woman in Surgery

25 Oct 2018

by Rachel Salinas

Becoming a surgeon is an intimidating endeavor. The moment I said it out loud, people would comment on how hard the hours are, how mentally and emotionally exhausting this career is, and they would always encourage me to research other specialties. For a Hispanic female, it just felt as though the world was saying “Don’t do it”. I constantly second guessed the path that felt so right for me from the beginning of my venture into medicine.

In August of this year, I received an email about an essay contest being held by my institution.The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine Surgical Interest Group held a contest in which winners would be awarded support to attend the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) 2018 Annual Conference held in Boston. I jumped at the opportunity because I have never had the resources to travel to Boston to visit my dream residency program. Contestants were tasked with writing an essay describing what this year’s slogan, “Dare to be Me,” meant to them as future surgeons. As I wrote my essay, I reflected on the sacrifices and changes that I made in order to become a medical student. After years as a theatre stage manager, and while in the middle of my career as a public high school English teacher, it was administering CPR for the first time to a victim of a car accident that made me aware of my true calling. Writing the essay made me realize the courage that it took to leave that life behind in search of more. Few words can describe how I felt when it was announced that I had won.  

The AWS Conference provided me with the opportunity to meet countless successful women surgeons, surgical residents and medical students at various levels of their training. The amount invaluable information and advice I received was astounding. The topics covered were all interesting, some of the more memorable ones included: Dr. Jo Shapiro’s talk on “Bouncing Back from Failure” and Dr. Melina Kibbe’s eye-opening address on “The Implications of Sex Bias in Research.” During Dr. Kibbe’s talk, I realized that I had to make some changes to the data analysis of my current research project on treatment of phlebolymphedema patients to make sure that we also compared the effects of the proposed treatment between the sexes.

Ms. Rachel Salinas with Dr. Romero Arenas & fellow medical students from UTRGV at 2018 AWS Conference

In addition to the AWS conference, I also had the opportunity to attend the first business meeting of the Latino Surgical Society as well as the American College of Surgeons Conference. I felt a part of the surgical community, and realized that I already had two incredible mentors at home. Dr. Minerva Romero Arenas and Dr. Sam Snyder went out of their way to provide me with every opportunity to meet the people who could make my dreams a reality, and I am beyond fortunate to have them be a part of my home institution. I left Boston certain of two things: I am going to be a surgeon, and I will see you all again next year in San Francisco.   

Rachel Salinas is from Edinburg, Tx and a medical student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. She completed prior studies at Texas A&M University where she earned a Double B.A. in Theatre Arts and English as well a M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction. After a combined 10 years in the theatre and 7 years in the classroom, performing CPR for the first time allowed her to discover her passion for helping others. She is a new member of the Assoc
iation of Women Surgeons and plans to become a surgeon though loves too many types of surgery at the moment to know what kind. She loves her family, her cats and her french bulldog. Twitter: @rachesalinas

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.

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