Interview by Agata A. Szulia, MD
This series of interviews seeks to amplify the voices of female surgeons who are actively engaged on social media. Through sharing their perspectives, expertise, glimpses into their professional and private lives – including both challenges and moments of levity – these remarkable women contribute to creating an accurate and authentic portrayal of women in surgery. By engaging with millions of people on social media, they help to dismantle barriers for women in surgery and serve as a profound source of inspiration for aspiring and current surgeons alike.
Dr. Betsy Grunch is a board-certified neurosurgeon at Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, Georgia. She received her degree in Biology from the University of Georgia and graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. Dr. Grunch completed her residency at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where she also completed her fellowship training in spine surgery. She is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons. Her main professional interests involve minimally invasive spine techniques, cervical and lumbar disc replacement, SI joint fusion, deformity correction, and advancing the field of neurotrauma. Additionally, Dr. Grunch runs successful social media accounts (Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube: @ladyspinedoc, Facebook: @drgrunch), where she has garnered over 2M followers by presenting engaging neurosurgical cases and medical educational content, promoting female medical practitioners, sharing her unique sense of humor, and showing snippets of her practice and private life with her husband, Ray, two children, Riley and Beatrice, and two dogs, Pancake and Butters.
- Why did you choose the field of surgery, and neurosurgery in particular? Do you have a particular life or work experience that has shaped you as a surgeon?
Growing up, I wanted to be just like my mother. She was a force to be reckoned with and a true trailblazer, working as a police officer in the 90s – a male dominated field. When I was about to start high school, she was in a horrible car accident while on-duty. She suffered from a cervical spinal fracture that left her quadriplegic. In an instant, my mom went from being a very fit and active young woman to not being able to move her arms or legs at all. Following the accident, I became a certified nursing assistant so that I could help care for her. She had to go through rehabilitation and there, we were surrounded by other families in similar situations. Because of this experience, I decided to pursue a career in neurosurgery, so that I could help people like my mother.
- Did you encounter any misconceptions around women surgeons in your training and practice? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, being a woman in a male-dominated field has had its challenges because people often have implicit bias. You’re not strong enough, not knowledgeable enough, and just generally not enough. That’s not true, and I wanted to break down those barriers. Women absolutely can be strong enough and can certainly be just as knowledgeable, if not more. We deserve a seat at the table. In fact, a recent study has shown that women have seen better outcomes when they are treated by a female surgeon.
To overcome these challenges, I have had to always strive to be the best at what I do. That’s okay because I want to be the best for my patients. I’ve also had to learn how to rise above those who try to underestimate me. It’s easy to be brought down by those who are narrow-minded, but you have to believe in yourself and trust your training.
- Is there anything that you would like to change in the field of surgery?
The stigma that you cannot have a successful career and be present for your family and friends. I have had so many people ask me about whether it’s possible, and I always tell them yes! It involves a lot of communication and planning, but absolutely, it is possible. I am fortunate enough to have a partner who is a great communicator and supporter; I also rely on many others to ensure things can run smoothly both at home and at work. Additionally, I make it a priority to be home for family dinner and for my kids’ bedtime.
- You spend a significant amount of time providing educational content and sharing your professional and private life on social media. What motivates you to create content for social media?
I really like to use social media as a creative outlet, so it has been a lot of fun seeing what resonates with others as I play with ways to present cases, medical education, office shenanigans, home life, and more. Many of the responses I receive are from young women aspiring to be in healthcare. When I was going through school, it was before social media was so prevalent. I only saw what was in front of me which was a very male-dominated field. It would have been more encouraging if I had seen more people that looked like myself; representation matters. My aim is to provide a little bit of inspiration and hope for future healthcare providers.
- What are your goals for the future?
My goal is to continue to provide patient focused and compassionate care. I love my patients and always want the best outcomes for them. I also love educating, so I hope that there continue to be opportunities for me to impart some knowledge, whether that be through teaching new techniques to other surgeons, sharing knowledge on social media, or presenting at various association meetings. I hope to also push the envelope in advancing the positivity and inspiration on social media.
- What advice would you give to aspiring female surgeons?
Know that you are worthy. You have worked very hard to be where you are and it’s easy to give into imposter syndrome. Everyone does, but you must silence those doubts. I want you to know that you are capable and you are incredible.
- What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My family and I love spending time on the water. Our favorite pastimes include wakeboarding and surfing, jet skiing, and swimming. I also love watching football (Go Dawgs & Falcons), attending concerts with friends, and working out daily.
Agata A. Szulia graduated with honors from the Medical University of Lodz, Poland in 2022, and is currently undergoing a post graduate internship in her home country. Since medical school, Agata has been involved in plastic and reconstructive surgery (PRS), participating in clinical and research work within her home institution as well as in Germany, Italy and the US. Her professional interests center around the breast – she is set to begin her PhD this fall at her home institution with a focus on genetic factors influencing sensation of the breast and female quality of life, and plans to apply to a research fellowship in PRS in the United States next year. She also plans to research and advance patient-centered and compassionate care for women. In her free time, you can find her out in nature hiking, running, swimming or traveling. Through her involvement with AWS, she aims to promote the importance of female representation in surgery and amplify the voices of women surgeons who are actively engaging with social media platforms. You can find her on LinkedIn (Agata Szulia), and, less formally, on Instagram (@awczapce).