Dr. Jessica O'Connell with medical students and a patient at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center
The Women in Surgery Interest Group (WISIG), part of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM), was formed in 2010 by faculty members Dr. Jessica O'Connell and Dr. Avital Harari.
These surgeons saw a need to create an environment that would support women in surgery, both personally and professionally.
One of the few interest groups on campus created by faculty, the WISIG brings together medical professionals across the education continuum. Medical students, residents, fellows and faculty members mentor one another, discuss important issues in the field of surgery and foster professional relationships.
The group helps members gain invaluable shadowing experience. Every month, students can sign up to follow a designated faculty member in a specific specialty.
"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, DGSOM class of 2018.
The WISIG also hosts events throughout the year where women discuss their experiences in surgery and their own career trajectories, topics that inspire students getting ready to launch their own careers.
A spring mixer usually takes place in a faculty member's home, uniting faculty members, 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 group also addresses a number of work-life balance challenges surgeons face, including maintaining relationships with a demanding work schedule, deciding whether or not to start a family, working part-time or full-time, and even requesting raises and negotiating salaries.
Older students, residents, and faculty members offer younger peers advice on handling the advanced phases of medical education, assembling residency application materials and more.
The WISIG 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 group’s main message 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