By Jennifer F. Tseng
Women in surgery are diverse; how can we support them? I have watched with great pride as our graduating Chief Residents at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine have navigated their growth and development, as well as that of their partners. I am honored to uplift their voices and share with AWS blog readers my interpretation of their insights. Any errors in judgment are of course, mine. Enjoy!
Pearl: People that aren’t like you can still be important mentors.
Dr. Andrea Madiedo : “Becoming a surgeon is about more than just knowing how to operate and manage patients. Eventually you learn who you want to emulate, how you want to be remembered, get comfortable being yourself, and your skills start to speak for themselves. While having female mentors and visibility of those who look like you in gender, race/ethnicity, and orientation in our field are important, I think it is equally if not more important to find mentors who are dedicated and willing to personally invest in your growth and in building on your strengths. By chance, some of my best mentors as a woman have been male surgeons and colleagues who have been my advocates and cheerleaders along the way. It is so valuable and important to have “he for shes” who understand us and stand by us in our circles!”
Pearl: Define yourself, don’t let others define you.
Dr. Stephanie Talutis: “To the women confused for nurses or other non-physician staff, my advice is to say proudly you are a doctor or surgeon when misidentified. It’s not an insult to be called a nurse, and don’t act like it is; it’s just an error. It’s important to be positive about your real role. Make a point of also identifying your female and male colleagues by their Doctor title as well when performing introductions on rounds to patients. Promoting equality from the top down starts with small actions like this. When my chief resident did this with me as an intern, I felt that my role to patients was acknowledged and now I do this with my juniors too. Empower your team!”
Pearl: Set boundaries.
Dr. Benjamin Nelson: “I am married to a female PMR physician, and career and life balance with two physicians is complicated, but I wouldn’t trade it! My advice for men who support women in medicine is to spend some time thinking about what your life goals really are and clarifying your priorities together. To make that happen I think you really have to disconnect from the hospital when you’re home. As an example, I do not have email or EPIC on my phone. It’s hard, but you have to set up your own boundaries that mutual and family support. That gives me the opportunity to be more present with my family, and we can communicate uninterrupted and build the life that we both want.”
Pearl: In a two-physician household, it’s give, and take, and be grateful. And . . . men should seek out women mentors!
Dr. Praveen Sridhar: “I’m married to a female urologist who just finished residency and now is a fellow. For people who are looking to be supportive of their female surgeon partner I’ve learned two things so far. First, it has been so important for us to be open with each other about our career goals. As a result, we have both learned how helpful it has been to maintain flexibility because we both will sacrifice for each other at different points in our lives. When those times happen we just have to appreciate that support and be ready to do the same when the time comes.
Second, as a man, seeking out women who are mentors has helped me understand the pathway that my women colleagues and most importantly (to me!) my wife will have to walk to achieve her career goals in ways that I would not have understood before. Men need to actively seek out women as mentors not just because we can learn how to be a great surgeon or decision-maker, but also so we can recognize the obstacles in this system that we are a part of or can contribute to fixing.”
Pearl: All women are not alike.
Dr. B. Aldana Blanco: “Women are often boxed into categories. This happens in surgery and in any high-performance profession. In reality, some women are more nurturing, some are more assertive, some are better at listening than others. I think we should support and celebrate all women with their differences, strengths and weaknesses and not try to shape women into what we think a surgeon must look like. We should be deliberate about giving women and men equal opportunities to allow them to manifest their true selves and shine in and out of work.”
In listening to our BMC Chief residents, I have learned that women in surgery are not uniform; nor for that matter, are the men or partners of any kind who seek to support female surgeons and physicians. Stereotypes of what a surgeon of any gender should or should not be, do, or look like are outdated. I look forward to this new generation of surgeons redefining what our surgical world looks like. Onward!
Dr. Jennifer F. Tseng was born in Berkeley and grew up in San Jose, California. She attended Stanford University, majoring in English and biological sciences, followed by medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Tseng did her surgery residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she also served as staff surgeon (super-Chief), followed by a surgical oncology fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Tseng began her faculty career at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 2005; while there, she completed her master of public health degree at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Tseng was recruited to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School as Chief of Surgical Oncology in 2011, where she rose to the rank of Professor of Surgery at Harvard. In 2017, she was appointed as the James Utley Professor and Chair of Surgery at Boston University and the Surgeon-in-Chief at Boston Medical Center.
Dr. Tseng is a surgical oncologist whose practice includes pancreas, hepatobiliary, and gastric surgery. She is also a health services researcher focusing on risk prediction and prevention, disparities in surgical and cancer care, and models to build health equity. Dr. Tseng founded Surgical Outcomes Analysis & Research (SOAR) in 2007. SOAR, now chaired by Dr. Teviah Sachs, with resident leaders Dr. Alaina Geary and Dr. Allan Stolarksi, is now the hub of outcomes research for the Boston University School of Medicine/Boston Medical Center Department of Surgery. Dr. Tseng is the President-Elect of the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, is a founder and a past President of the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons, is on the executive councils of the Society of Surgical Oncology and the Society of University Surgeons, and is a councilor on the American Board of Surgery (ABS), where she will take over as chair of the ABS Research Committee in June 2021. She serves on a number of editorial boards and is a deputy editor for JAMA Surgery.
Dr. Tseng has mentored multiple trainees to great success in national and international meetings, funded grants, and peer-reviewed publications, and their achievements are her source of greatest pride.
Dr. Tseng lives with her husband Dr. Marc Sabatine and their two teenagers, Matthew (“Matteo”) and Natalie, in greater Boston.
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.