BANGOR — Historically, surgical suites across the U.S. are predominantly staffed by male surgeons, and slowly the gender gap is changing. In recent years, about 40 percent of new surgeons hired at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center have been women. In the past year, 62 percent of surgeons who joined a practice at the Medical Center are women.
Women represent four of seven critical care/trauma surgeons on staff at Northern Light Surgery and Trauma and three of five orthopedic surgeons at Northern Light Orthopedics. “I think people are still surprised to see female orthopedic surgeons,” says Jessica Aronowitz, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder surgery at Northern Light Orthopedics, a specialty that nationally has less than 10 percent of practicing orthopedic surgeons who are female. “I have been pleasantly surprised, however, by the number of patients who seek out a surgeon who is female or are very happy about having me in charge of their care.”
Some factors create challenges for women who chose the path of becoming a surgeon, including lack of female mentors. Recognizing the critical role mentors play guiding medical students in their careers, programs across the US are trying to improve gender equity. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports full-time women faculty in medical institutions has continued to rise since 2009 and is now at 41 percent.
“It is possible to have work/life balance that allows for spouses, families, pets, outside passions, and a great surgical career,” says Michelle Toder, MD, ABOM, FACS, FASMBS, medical director, Northern Light Surgical Weight Loss and co-director, Northern Light Medical Weight Management. “Being female should not be seen as a barrier to following your professional dreams.”
As a practicing surgeon for 25 years, Dr. Toder says, “I have had a very rewarding career as a surgeon. I have great institutional support and feel welcomed and appreciated by the community as a surgeon who happens to be female.”
During Women’s History Month, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center thanks surgeons who are women that care for patients in this community, and for paving the way as role models for the next generation of surgeons.