The Intersection of Race and Gender in Surgery

26 Feb 2017

By Mohini Dasari

In light of February being Black History Month, I was inspired to write about the intersection of race and gender in surgery. As a woman of color currently applying to surgical residency programs, the issues of diversity and gender have been on my mind for quite some time. While diversity can also refer to socioeconomic status, religion and sexual orientation, I will be focusing on one definition of diversity: race/ethnicity.

Why does race matter? Do we live in a post-racial society, where we can all identify together under broader terms such as “women”? Can all women identify under the single label of “women in surgery” within a traditionally male-dominated field? While I would like to say yes, for the sake of unity, I must say “yes and no.”

Whenever I go to national meetings, or when I was on the interview trail, I usually count how many women are there. While I’m sure many of us do this, I also find myself counting how many women of color I see— as leaders, speakers or panelists. Not surprisingly, when the number of overall women in leadership positions is small, the number of women of color is even smaller– a phenomenon termed as the “double blind”. As a future academic surgeon and woman of color, I find that this representation (or lack thereof) affects me on a personal level.

I was reading “Feminist Fight Club” in preparation for the AWS tweet chat, and the author made a great point about how the increased presence of women in meetings encourages more women to speak up. I posit that the same is true for racial diversity: when I see more people like me (women of color) in a group, I feel more empowered to speak up. I am grateful to have found some wonderful female surgical mentors in my career thus far. However, finding mentors who are also women of color is not always easy.

Is this to say that women of color must only seek mentors who are also women of color? Of course not. Just like current/aspiring female surgeons can have mentors of any gender, the same can be said for women of color who are seeking mentors. However, I think there are unique challenges that women of color face when trying to enter fields that are traditionally dominated by men AND by people who are not racial minorities. These challenges include but are not limited to implicit bias, microaggressions, lack of representation in leadership, and difficulty confronting stereotypes.

This post is intended to be a starting point to discuss the importance of the intersectionality of race and gender in surgery. As a woman of color and future female surgeon, I hope to serve as a resource and mentor for other women entering this field. As an inclusive community of female surgeons, I hope that we continue to have an honest discussion about closing both the gender and racial gaps in surgery. Recognizing these disparities is crucial to our mission of increasing diversity in surgery, in more ways than one.

Mohini Dasari is a fourth year medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is currently applying to general surgery residency programs, with career interests in global health, trauma and burns. She is the Mid-Atlantic Representative on the Association of Women Surgeons National Medical Student Committee. In her free time, she enjoys working out, writing, trying new restaurants, and spending time outside.

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.

2 Replies to “The Intersection of Race and Gender in Surgery”

  1. Thank you Mohini, what a well written piece about what some of us experience in our career. It is already hard to be a woman in surgery but once you start looking at the race/ethnicity factor it only gets harder. I recall counting the women when I interviewed: both the interviewees and the interviewers only to find small numbers. Up until now, I do not recall meeting another Latina applying to surgery. Far worse, as a med student I only met one Latina female surgeon that I’ve worked with. Twitter and AWS have helped me meet more Latina surgeons and that has been inspiring. I have many mentors – male and females (I take them as they come) but there is some connection that is made when you meet “someone like me,” something I can’t explain. Thank you for this post.

    1. Thanks for your response, Madeline. It is hard, as you have said, but social media certainly helps alleviate some, if not all, of the gaps, in connecting with other minority women surgeons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *