Emily D. Friedman, MD
I received a call the other day from Cinde Breedlove, an in-house editor with Kaiser Permanente. She had interviewed two female neurosurgeons employed in the Kaiser system and learned about the existence of WINS. She asked, “Why is there a need within neurosurgery to have a separate women’s organization when other surgical specialties don’t have one.” She added, “Why are there so few of you?” Why, indeed?
What began as a cocktail club among several senior residents who were discussing the trials of training and job hunting, has blossomed into a strong, nationwide network of neurosurgeons of all ages. We happen to be women; we happen to enjoy each other’s company; and, since most of us were isolated women in a male training program (we changed in the nurses’ dressing room), it’s damn good to help those going through the ranks now. We have a lot to learn from each other, and from our senior mentors: Suzie Tindall, MD, Frances Conley, MD, Janet Bay, MD, Nancy Epstein, MD, Beverly Walters, MD, Joan Venes, MD, Carole Miller, MD, to name a few. And, as we age and become more comfortable in our own “skin,” we take chances and say what we mean, not what may be accepted.
At the same time, younger and hopefully more open-minded individuals are assuming chairs of residency programs. Women now comprise more than 50 percent of medical school classes, and should be encouraged to follow their dreams even if it means neurosurgery! I hear of isolated, pitiful instances when women residents or young faculty are being treated harshly, and I remember Alexa Canadys’, MD, wise words to me “Why hit your head against the wall, work where you’re appreciated.” Now, I find that most of us are thriving, enjoying busy practices, challenging cases and financial success, as well as having successful marriages and families.
As an organization, we help female students and residents just being here. We also may be able to help each other through the politics of committee work (organized neurosurgery), the hierarchy of academia and the intricacies of practice. Communication and leadership skills may need some perfecting, but I hope that this organization will grow to where it can teach that. In this effort, outside consultants may be needed.
During Edward R. Laws, Jr., MD, AANS Presidential Address, he commented on the relationship between Harvey Cushing, MD, and William Osler, MD, by saying, “Both the student and teacher benefit from mentoring, friendship, mutual respect and admiration.” I guess you could say, “That’s the purpose of Women in Neurosurgery.”