Tour Wrap-up: Mentor Perspective – Inspiration for our Cirujana
Before dreaming of a career in medicine, women had to begin by being granted admission to medical school. Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to accomplish such a feat, the result of a poorly-played prank by the all-male class on the faculty at Geneva Medical College. Though she initially studied teaching, a field considered more suitable for women, a friend’s death greatly impacted the young Blackwell. At her deathbed, Elizabeth’s friend confided that she would have been spared much suffering had her physician been a woman.
Over 160 years since Dr. Blackwell earned the first Medical Doctorate awarded to a woman in the U.S., the face of medicine continues to change. Women are pursuing medical careers in record-breaking numbers. Female applicants to medical schools went from less than 10% in 1965, to approximately 50% in 2005 (Source: Figure 1: Women as a Percentage of Applicants to U.S. Medical Schools, 1965-2012). Not only are they applying, but they are matriculating and succeeding. In 2012, 33 schools had a female majority of the class (source: AAMC Table 26: Total Enrollment by U.S. Medical School and Sex, 208-2012). Additionally, African-American and Latino students made up 7% and 8% of medical school students in 2011 (source: AAMC Table 31: Total Enrollment by U.S. Medical School and Ethnicity).
What is exciting for me as I witness this change is the increasing interest of women of diverse backgrounds in surgery. Traditionally a male-dominated field, surgery has eluded the increasing number of female medical students. As a medical student, which was not that long ago, I was often reminded that “most women pursue careers in primary care,” and “surgery is an old-boys club.” How would I handle the grueling residency and was I willing to sacrifice having a family?
Then I met real surgeons, some of them were even women. Their work ethic, commitment to their patients, and quest for excellence made a lasting impression on me. I learned that it would be tough road ahead, but like many before me, I too could achieve it. That is exactly why the Tour for Diversity in Medicine was a must-do for me.
During the T4D events, I met many promising students interested in careers in medicine and surgery. “It is so great that you are coming back to encourage us,” said one student, when she learned there was a cirujana – a female surgeon on the tour. “I am inspired by students like you,” I responded. The truth is I can’t wait for the next tour.