Dr. Jessica O'Connell with medical students at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
These surgeons saw a need to create an environment that would support women in surgery, both personally and professionally.
Although it's one of the very few interest groups on campus created by faculty, it has since flourished into an active group of medical professionals across the education continuum. Medical students, residents, fellows and faculty come together to mentor one another, discuss important issues in the field of surgery and foster professional relationships.
Exposure to the profession
One of the most notable features of the group is the shadowing experience. Every month, students can sign up to follow a designated faculty member in one of many possible surgical specialties for the day. "We don't get a lot of exposure to surgery as medical students, so when faculty members offer us the chance to shadow them in the OR, in clinic and in rounds, it's great to have that exposure, and to have that personal interaction with dedicated members of the faculty," says Jessica Lucier, second-year medical student and one of the co-student leaders of the group with Rachel Mandelbaum.
Events to remember
The WISIG also hosts events throughout the year, featuring women in surgery as visiting scholars that address the group about their experience in medicine. A larger event in the fall features a panel of female surgeons who speak about their career trajectory, which is always inspiring to students at this phase in their education. A spring mixer usually takes place in a faculty member's home, uniting faculty, residents, students and fellows in an informal setting to have dinner, socialize and make connections that lead to mutually beneficial mentorships and learning opportunities.
The important issues
These events facilitate dialogue about a number of challenges surgeons face to balance work and life: maintaining relationships with a demanding work schedule, whether or not to start a family, working part-time or full-time, how current female surgeons balance their responsibilities, requesting raises and even negotiating salary. In addition, older students and residents provide advice about how to prepare for the next phase in one's medical education, like putting together a residency application. Faculty provides similar input, and many sit in on selection committees themselves.
Women helping women
The Women in Surgery Interest Group is an excellent place to learn from dedicated faculty, share career advice and provide support to peers. It's also a safe place to discuss personal issues that come up as a woman in the surgical profession, the main message of which is one of empowerment for all women: "As long as you are good at your job," states Lucier, "you can do whatever you want. If you really love surgery, you can build your life so you have really high job satisfaction, as well as a fulfilling family life. These women work really hard, and they show us that you may not be able to have everything, but you can have everything that is important to you."
Since its creation in 2010, the WISIG has become more than just a surgical interest group; it's a thriving community that provides a warm, inviting space on campus for students and faculty.
By Kyleigh Roessner