YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: Moms changing the operating room, the bright future of female surgeons

In 2019, the majority of medical students were women but surgery remains a male-dominated field
Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 11:30 AM CDT
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NEENAH, Wis. (WBAY) - We are still celebrating how much moms do for us as we spotlight some very special mothers in Wisconsin who are also chairs of Wisconsin surgery departments.

Back in 2019, it was the first year the majority of medical students were women. However, surgery continues to be heavily male dominated with only 6% of orthopedic surgeons being women.

Surgeons discussed candidly how gender plays a role in their work and the impact a parent’s career can have on their child, especially for a local woman now head of a major surgery department.

“For myself and my dad we thought this was going to be the thing and many people didn’t really believe us at the time,” Dr. Cynthia Geocaris, medical director of robotic surgery at ThedaCare, remembered. “We maybe went into it with not a lot of support.”

Dr. Geocaris is now the medical director of robotic surgery at ThedaCare which is one of just five case observations sites for robotic surgery in the state. Plus, one of the few places in the country where there are both male and female surgeon trainers.

A mother of four, Dr. Geocaris grew up in Green Bay and went to Loyola Medical School in Chicago just like her dad.

Now, Dr. Geocaris says she is excited to see more women in scrubs and next to her in the operating room helping to change the face and landscape of surgery.

“Once you achieve that gender parity, we don’t even think about it so much anymore, we really are focused on the competencies, who is the best person for the role,” the department of surgery chair at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Dr. Rebecca Minter, emphasized. Dr. Minter is also a mother of three and her husband is also a surgeon.

“What we hear from the young people that are coming into the department whether they are faculty or trainees is that I can just come here and be a surgeon,” Dr. Minter added. “I don’t have to be a woman surgeon.”

Having 80% of UW’s general surgery division chairs be women doesn’t mirror the statistics nationwide. Still only 22% of general surgeons are female. Which is why organizations like the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) are trying to make the surgical pipeline more female friendly.

By mentoring high school students across the United States, using their 3,000 member network across 40 countries, the AWS is trying to make the profession more accessible.

“In the past, it was the case that men oftentimes would talk to other men and male surgeons, especially in training, you know on the golf course or in this context or that context,” the president of the AWS, Dr. Elizabeth Schaughnessy, remembered. “It wasn’t necessarily that the women were invited.”

“Surgery wasn’t typically a field for women early on and I remember the first big robotics meeting I went to about five years ago and there were probably less than five women at the meeting,” Dr. Geocaris recalled. “But things are changing and I think now surgery is about 50/50 women in surgery we’ve come a long way.”

The surgeons shared how crucial it is to have women in all levels of surgical leadership. Allowing for more visible representation. Plus, normalizing spending time with your family at things like school plays or soccer games in between a sometimes 80-hour work week schedule.

Annie Krall is a former writer and producer for ABC NEWS New York City on the national medical and business units. Prior to that position, she was accepted to medical school her senior year at Northwestern University, after spending four years as a pre-medical student. However, Krall deferred her acceptance to pursue a Master in Health, Environment, and Science Journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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