As a fellow biomedical engineering major and pre-med student, I have recently been motivated to become a orthopedic surgeon. Although orthopedics has the lowest percentage of women in a surgical specialty, with only 4.3 percent of female board-certified orthopedic surgeons, the thought of working with physical tools such as plates, screws, and rods to actively improve the lives of others excites me as it exists at the intersection of engineering and medicine.
I laughed it off, but then it started bothering me. Already a petite girl standing at 4 ft. 11 in., my friends and I have joked that I would stand on a mini stool when in the OR. However, now I began wondering if I was physically fit to operate as a surgeon. People commonly attribute the surgical field’s gender disparity to the physical force required to move dislocated bones and joints back into place; however, since I had been shadowing an orthopedist that semester, I had fallen in love with ACL and rotator cuff surgeries, drawn in by the variety of tools the surgeons used and the collaborative atmosphere of the OR. I did not want to be segregated from the rest of the orthopods because I wasn’t strong enough.
So, I began doing some research. It turns out that there are short, not-as-muscular women just like me who are perfectly successful orthopedic surgeons! They use biomechanics to generate the same amount of force the other jock orthopods used to complete their surgeries. Sometimes, their colleagues would come to them to learn their techniques to generate greater forces since the female surgeons understood how to use the principles of torque and inertia to their benefit. . While the need for physical strength may have been relevant in the past, modern-day medical equipment has shifted the primary requisites from brute strength to manual dexterity, mechanical ability, and an aptitude in three-dimensional visualization.
Point being: There are going to be people who are going to cast doubt on your career choices, whether it be due to your gender, race, height, or any other discriminating feature they make up. Research shows that subtle attitudes are the leading factors that discourage women from fulfilling careers in orthopedics and surgical specialties in general. Both male and female respondents agreed that the lack of female role models in orthopedics is a barrier to women entering the field.
The rising proportion of women in surgical specialties, particularly in ob/gyn and general surgery with a high percentage of women, overall disproves the antiquated notion that women are simply not interested in surgery. So, for the other females out there like me interested in orthopedics but searching for role models, there are several female orthopedic surgical support organizations, including: The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS), named after the first female orthopedic surgeon in the United States, The RJOS Guide for Women in Orthopaedic Surgery to guide women all the way from medical school to residency, and throughout their careers, and The Perry Initiative is another organization named after a pioneering woman in orthopedics, Dr. Jacquelin Perry.
Do your research, find yourself a good role model, and stay motivated to achieve your dreams!
Shivani will be attending New Jersey Medical School in 2019, and in her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, being outdoors, and watching old movies. Her goal is to balance patient care with research to improve the physical and mental health of underrepresented communities.