Inspirational Women: the female surgeon

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One of the best parts of this blog is when I get to shine a light on some of those women I see doing well in life, so we can all learn a thing or two about how it’s really done and celebrate them. Credit where it’s due I say!

This posts features a female surgeon who kindly too the time to answer some of my questions about surgery, being a woman in surgery and dealing with difficulties. I hope you enjoy the read!

Aawaz: We hear a lot about barrier for women in medicine and surgery is no exception. In your experience how real have these barriers been? And how to you tackle them?

During my training I noticed barriers but never realized how they subtly existed against women. Growing up and  with life experience I notice these barriers against women more now than ever before.

It’s the subtleties. The barriers are surreptitious, unspoken, on a subconscious level. No one necessarily identifies them unless ‘they’ are the ones they are targeted at. This is why it is so difficult to combat this ‘silent’ problem.

For example, this includes my male consultant not making eye contact with me as a woman during a ward round, not acknowledging my presence but acknowledging my male colleagues, talking with my male colleagues when it should be to both of us. Encouraging my male colleagues to aim high but not me. This subtle barrier is very different to the obvious prejudice against women for taking maternity leave, the expiry date of a woman career post childbirth, this ‘subtle’ day to day prejudice that I notice daily is far more damaging to any womans career progression.

The only good thing that has come from such prejudices and barriers against women is it has made women like me work even harder and more fiercely to create change for the future.

Aawaz: I feel quite strongly that women should support one another, how do you feel about this? 

One of the biggest problems of barriers against women is other women.

Women don’t want to see other women succeed and that bothers me; a lot.

I understand why Men don’t want to see women succeed – because they feel demasculinized, since the beginning of time and evolution, from they day they are born they are gender-typed into being ‘the provider’ and when in the presence of a ‘strong’ woman they ‘react’ they feel they don’t have a purpose, a purpose that was traditionally valued.

Women however, I still don’t understand. I have pondered over this time and time again. Women feel threatened by other women. ‘We’ don’t like to see other women succeed.

Especially women who have achieved their aspirations and were criticized by men along the way they often feel bitter and cynical and end up projecting what was done to them onto their female successors.

We can be our worst enemies. several times I have had female mentors who have advised me to ‘think seriously before you enter this career choice’, ‘its too tough for women’, ‘if you want children you shouldn’t do surgery’, ‘its too hard, are you sure your up to it?’ We should be nurturing and encouraging each other not waiting for each other to fail.

If we amongst ourselves as women are not clear on how we should be treated and valued.. then how can we expect the rest of society to treat us better?

Aawaz: How you do you feel about sharing your career aspirations? Do you think it’s something that people should keep to themselves or not? 

During medical school peers were very ‘cloak and dagger’’ about their career aspirations – as though if they divulged their aspirations their colleagues would steal their ideals and surpass them in the ‘competition of life’. Playground behavior never interested me.

What you achieve has nothing to do with others around you. I am open about my career aspirations especially if it inspires those around me to achieve.

Aawaz: What are some of the good things that you have done in your career that you wish you had done earlier?

Talk to men. For a long time I had strong feministic views which all birthed from the way men treated me negatively.

However when I started to talk to men more and acknowledge their presence I was able to show them how women contribute positively to society and their mindsets began to change. I just wish id started earlier I would have converted many more men by now!

Aawaz: Who inspires you?

My family. My mother is the epitome of patience, endless giving and resilience. My father is the epitome of resilience and hard work. My grandmother is the matriarch who is placed at the top of the current family tree to generations of individuals – she is a current and clear living example of a strong female leader. Miss Walls A senior breast consultant, one of the strongest women I know in all aspects of her life, through the good and the bad. She knows what she has done for me.

Aawaz: What is the most important quality in a good surgeon.

Emotional Intelligence.

Aawaz: I am very early on in my medical career and not sure what I want to do. Should I be worried?! 

No, no and no. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Don’t make a decision until the end of your F1 year – at least. By then you’ve had an experience of what life as a doctor is really like.

Aawaz: Can you “have it all”?

If you want something you’ll make it happen

I’m living proof of this and so are thousands of other women.

Aawaz: Finally and most importantly, If you weren’t a surgeon what would you be doing?

Easy. Fashion Designer.

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Massive thank you to Shazia Hafiz, inspirational female surgeon, for taking the time to write this.

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