The AWS Conference on October 21st was a full day with a scientific session, professional development panels, and a broad range of networking opportunities that originated as a simple sign for a breakfast with women surgeons 36 years ago.
This year we took mindfulness and self-care from the abstract into practice with a yoga session and run along the San Diego Embarcadero. With the excitement buzzing around the day’s events, I deeply appreciated having a moment to appreciate the sunrise and to sync breaths with other attendees.
This past year we accomplished new milestones and new trends on social media. We had the opportunity to realize how much better we truly are together. The conference made broad use of multimedia, including an introductory video by student member Emily Chen.
Members’ academic endeavors were highlighted in the Starr Research forum, AWS/AJS Best Manuscript Session, and a presentation from AWS Foundation Fellowship Awardee, Dr. Nasreen Vohra. Projects from a broad range of topics were presented, including “SOX9 in irradiated rectal cancer: a potential marker for tumor regression?, and Evaluation of TRB-N0224”, by Lindsay Nowak, “Improving Outcomes with Minimally Invasive Aortic Valve Replacements” by Anna Olds, and “A Chemically Modified Curcumin for Osteoarthritis Treatment” by Josephine Coury. Likewise, the resident forum featured excellent projects from a variety of surgical research areas. To complete the scientific session, Dr. Nasreen Vohra spoke about the project she’ll be working on with the AWSF Ethicon Fellowship “Relationship between the transcriptional profile of the sentinel lymph node and outcomes in triple negative breast cancer”.
The keynote speaker, Lara Hogan, Vice President of Engineering at Kickstarter, challenged us to “Be a Mentor, Find a Sponsor”. She encouraged all in attendance to critically evaluate how we seek out and provide professional guidance and support. She spoke to the value and crucial need for senior surgeons to sponsor their trainees and more junior surgeons for leadership positions. While the seat women earn at often unfriendly tables, she underscored She highlighted that for surgery to move toward gender equity, there must be increased sponsorship but also self-assertion that women belong at the table based on merit.
There is a reason why we are the Association of Women Surgeons, why we are not tied to a country or geographic region. It is because our international collective of members experience the same themes globally as women in medicine. The global panel on women in surgery highlighted the social exclusion, implicit bias, challenges in mentorship, and pathways to promotion we all inevitably encounter in the spectrum of medical training. Featured speakers included: Dr. Suad Abdul (Kuwait), Dr. Ainhoa Costas-Chavarri (Rwanda), Dr. Vikisha Fripp (USA), Dr. Avril Hutch (Ireland), Dr. Kazumi Kawase (Japan), Dr. Sherry Wren (USA), and Dr. Cheng Har Yi (Malaysia).
The official conference activities ended with a networking event in the new-for-2017 “Surgeon’s Lounge”- with a ribbon cutting ceremony by AWS President Celeste Hollands. The event offered a unique opportunity for all attendees to relax and network with each other and with our generous corporate sponsors. Following the conclusion of the conference, residents and medical students headed to a local restaurant for a taco-infused mixer. Medical Student and Resident Committee Chairs Shree Agrawal and Andrea Merrill spoke to the group to welcome all to San Diego and to encourage anyone interested in becoming more involved with AWS to take take the leap in becoming a member and make their mark on AWS.
As the day ended and American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress (ACSCC) began, AWS members continued to show the incredible work they are doing in advancing the surgical field, having myriad presentations, panel discussions, and leadership positions given by members. To highlight this and make use of the “Amplification” strategy used by other groups of women, appearances by AWS members were posted with #AWSatACS. This allowed for an extra level of visibility of the number of women speaking at ACSCC, and as a result, greater visibility both of each individual’s message and of women as leaders in surgery overall. Another trend that began during the Congress was a surgical #HeForShe– which started by Tom Varghese joining AWS subsequently followed by many other male surgical colleagues. The AWS conference’s close temporal and spatial relationship to ACSCC provided opportunities to engage with our biggest allies in our plans moving forward.
As the Clinical Congress continued on, there were myriad wonderful moments for women in surgery-Dr. Barbara Bass being installed as the 3rd female President of the College, Dr. Eileen Bulger installed as the first female chair of the Committee on Trauma, and Drs. Leigh Neumayer and Diana Farmer installed as the Chairs of the Board of Regents and the Board of Governors, respectively, just to name a few. On the evening of October 23rd, AWS held it’s AWS Foundation awards dinner, recognizing remarkable accomplishments by members at the medical student, resident, and attending level, as well as non-member allies. It was a truly spectacular evening celebrating how far we’ve come as women in surgery and reaffirming our commitment to the AWS mission. The next morning, AWS activities wrapped up with our annual Stryker Networking Breakfast, in honor of the origins of AWS and Dr. Pat Numann’s original breakfast meetings. The morning gave those still in town one last chance to come together in an informal setting and network…or be gently encouraged to take on one more AWS committee project.
This was my second ACSCC and my first of what I hope to be many AWS conferences, and for all of the things I imagined the experience would be, somehow it exceeded them. AWS seeks to inspire, encourage and enable women to realize their professional and personal goals. For at least this n=1, I left San Diego inspired by the accomplishments and ongoing work of #Sheroes I was surrounded by, encouraged by friends new and old, and enabled by new opportunities to lead and to pursue a career in this field, so that someday I may have the joy and privilege of being a surgeon.
Natalie Tully is a 3rd year MD/MPH student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX. She plans to pursue a career in surgery, and has particular interest in applying her dual degree in Surgical Research, Pediatric, and Trauma Surgery. In her free time, she enjoys running, cooking, and playing with her 4-legged study buddy, Sadie.
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.