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News & Press: eConnections

AWS Member Spotlight: Resident and Fellow Committee

Tuesday, February 6, 2018  
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The Resident and Fellow Committee’s aim is to develop resources to support and promote women in surgical residency programs, connect women surgery residents to potential mentors, and to serve as mentors/advisors to medical students. It is an amazing networking experience and a great way to meet women surgeons all over the country. Our committee has been very busy since the annual conference in October with a number of new projects:

  1. A successful AWS resident and fellow committee initiated Tweetchat was just conducted on 1/15/18. This Tweetchat was co-sponsored by ACS-RAS and focused on the role of residents in the operating room. The tweet chat had over 3.35 million impressions!!! You can read catch up on the Tweetchat by searching for #AWSchat on Twitter.
  2. Dear Pat: This is a new idea for the AWS blog modeled after the "Dear Abby" column. "Pat" represents AWS founder Pat Neumann. Blog posts are written by anonymous residents and fellows seeking advice on common issues facing surgical trainees and then answered by AWS council members. Look for the first post coming soon! You can submit you own anonymous "Dear Pat" question for consideration here.
  3. Collaboration with the medical student committee: We are working with the medical student committee to restart the resident/student mentorship program and to create a resident advisor system for the medical student chapters. Keep an eye out for a signup email and survey coming soon if you want to participate.
  4. AWS coaching program: A grant is currently under review to institute a coaching program that would match AWS faculty with AWS residents. The coaching program uses positive psychology and is aimed at addressing issues that contribute to burnout in women surgery residents.
  5. STARR poster contest: The resident and fellow committee will be more involved in the poster contest this year in conjunction with the medical student committee and will take a more active role in selecting and reviewing abstracts.

Interview with committee member Andrea Merrill, Tufts University School of Medicine and chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital

How did you become interested in surgery?

I initially wanted to do orthopedic surgery because I grew up playing a lot of sports (soccer, gymnastics, track and field), which invariably came with a lot of sports injuries. However, during medical school, I loved medicine and pathophysiology and felt I would be missing that in orthopedic surgery. Therefore I switched to general surgery, which, to me, felt like the perfect blend of medicine and surgery. To this day, I still think the best surgeons are the best doctors!

Did you have any key mentors along the way? If so, how did they help?

I have been fortunate along the way to have many mentors and role models, both male and female, who have helped shape my career. There was the orthopedic surgeon who took a chance on me after I emailed her out of the blue to see if she had any research projects I could get involved with. We met for the first time in the airport en route to our research project. My research PI in my lab years is the kind of surgeon I aspire to be: elegant, poised, technically precise in the OR, warm with her patients, and a powerhouse researcher. Every time I published or presented, she would email our department chair, program director, and surgical oncology division chief to amplify my successes. Under her, my vision for my future career was shaped and changed. My program director has supported and advised me every step of the way, even when what I wanted to do was a bit unconventional in a system that relishes convention. He has always encouraged my goals and gone out of his way to help me achieve them.

How did you become involved with AWS?

I am lucky that our department pays for an institutional membership for all of the residents in my program. However, I didn’t actually become involved in AWS until my research years a few years ago. To be honest, I initially shied away from groups like AWS because I was worried most of them would focus on work-life balance and managing families and children, which is something I don’t quite identify with (yet). As I went through residency though, I kept experiencing implicit gender bias in my day-to-day activities and eventually wrote an article about it.

Around the same time I wrote the article, I presented my research at the AWS STARR poster contest in Chicago and attended the AWS conference for the first time. I realized that these women were saying everything I had written in my article and that this was an organization that did so much more than I ever thought. Since then, I have found an amazing network of like-minded women fighting for the same cause: equality in the workplace, and who may also have families, and children, or interesting hobbies outside of medicine.

What do you think are particular challenges for women surgical residents? How has AWS helped or how can we help in the future?

Beyond the normal challenges of residency, I do feel women have it harder. While there may not be overt sexual harassment or discrimination, gender-based discrimination still happens almost daily but just isn’t as visible. This can almost be harder as many don’t realize it is happening. Organizations like AWS provide a network of women who are experiencing the same situation but also give us role models to look up to and ways to attempt to combat this implicit bias.

What are your future plans?

I will be starting a surgical oncology fellowship next year at The Ohio State University. I plan to specialize in breast and endocrine surgery and pursue clinical research in these areas.

What do you do when you’re #notsurgeoning?

When I’m #notsurgeoning, food is my life! I cook and bake (I have a baking blog), try new restaurants, and do food photography for local restaurants. I also love to travel and am about to travel to Asia with a friend (mostly to eat!)