As a resident surgeon I have found great solidarity and pride in the recently popularized #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag. Online I witnessed women surgeons across the nation and the world display their achievements and at this year’s Academic Surgical Congress I met many of the women behind the #ILookLikeASurgeon posts. Yet despite these positive experiences, I see the hashtag representing a dichotomy of sorts—both the great strides women have made and the disparities that still exist.
Recently I was given the opportunity to attend the University of Michigan’s Leadership Summit for Women in Academic Medicine and Health Care. The summit brought together women from across the nation with the goal of providing the fundamentals to develop the necessary skills to advance attendees into higher leadership positions. The second annual event featured lectures from prominent women in the medical field as well as successful leaders in business and entrepreneurship. In addition to unsurpassed networking opportunities, I left the day with leadership fundamentals that will benefit me in my residency and beyond.
Here are a few of them:
- You need a sponsor—most of us can list mentors who have influenced us throughout our career but naming our sponsors may be more challenging. The sponsor-protégé relationship is uniquely distinct from the gift of mentorship. It is a bidirectional interaction requiring effort from both involved parties. Sponsors coach, train, and promote; they speak highly of the protégé in front of people that matter; they open doors. In return, protégés are productive for their sponsors, proving that they are worthy of the sponsors praise. Despite research showing the career benefit of sponsors, women are half as likely to have a sponsor compared to male colleagues1. To find a sponsor you must be strategic. Remember, in their promotion of you they put their own reputation on the line. Look for a leader who is prominent in your chosen field and then make your skills visible, your presence and partnership necessary.
- Be prepared and present—the importance of preparation for networking and knowing your vision cannot be underestimated. Practice your story and be prepared to give it at the drop of a hat. Medicine, and even more so academic surgery, is a small world—you never know when you may meet someone who can help you to achieve your goals. In a study of over 200 senior executives, “executive presence” accounts for 26% of their promotion decision2. You will impress potential sponsors, and acquire engaged followers, if your presence instills confidence.
- Negotiate and don’t be scared to ask for more—women surgeons make 24% less than their male counterparts3. This is a complex issue with many components, some of which are beyond our control. Negotiation is in our court. Be it higher compensation, lab space, protected academic time—ask for it! Across professions women are less likely than men to ask for a raise, but for the minority it pays. In a recent survey by Citi/LinkedIn, though only 27% of women asked for a raise—84% of those who asked got it.4
- It’s not a pipeline problem, but the pipe is leaky—despite significant increases of women pursuing medical and surgical careers there is a disproportionately slow growth of women in leadership positions5. Research as to why this disparity persists has failed to pinpoint the exact cause. Some propose it is social pressure to raise a family that limits time devoted to work and promotion. Others suggest the more overt sexism of the past still permeates the environment resulting in decreased satisfaction and increased attrition among women. The list of potential barriers is long. Yet, no matter the cause, increased sponsorship and pursuit of leadership positions among women is needed in conjunction with further study to evaluate the etiology of this persistent and pervasive problem.
I was given the unique opportunity to take part in this event and was one of only a handful of residents, early in my career, gaining such incredible insight. So many women were envious, stating how beneficial such events would have been for them at an earlier stage in their career. I encourage other residents to look for opportunities to be involved in leadership events and seek out women leaders in all aspects of healthcare. The importance of leadership, particularly for underrepresented minorities, has become increasingly clear with the ever evolving and complex surgical world. Yet leadership curricula and training for resident surgeons is lacking. Encouraging resident leadership events may help fill this void in the future—training programs should seek to support such events if at all possible.
I am honored and proud to be a woman surgery resident and have enjoyed being a part of the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement. Yet I look forward to a day when such hashtags become a thing of the past—as we will all look like surgeons, no hashtag needed.
- Hewlett SA: The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor, Harvard Business Review, 2011
- Goudreau J: Do You Have ‘Executive Presence’?, Forbes Magazine, 2012
- Peckham C: Medscape General Surgeon Compensation Report 2016, 2016
- The Career Peak Paradox: New Citi/LinkedIn Survey Suggests Professionals Believe Success is a Moving Target, BusinessWire, 2014
- Sexton KW, Hocking KM, Wise E, Osgood MJ, Cheung-Flynn J, Komalavilas P, Campbell KE, Dattilo JB, Brophy CM: Women in academic surgery: the pipeline is busted. J Surg Educ 2012; 69: 84-90