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News & Press: eConnections

Member Spotlight: Madeline B. Torres

Tuesday, July 31, 2018  
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This month's member spotlight is on Madeline B. Torres, who serves as the liaison between the Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons (RAS ACS) and AWS. Her job is to foster collaboration between RAS ACS and AWS. She went to medical school at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She is currently a resident at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, and a Surgical Oncology Research Fellow at the National Cancer Institute.

Tell us more about your position as the liaison between the RAS ACS and AWS.

As part of my position, I participate in monthly conference calls with the RAS membership committee, where I function as the secretary, and am actively involved in ways to increase membership to both organizations at the resident level. This year, we hosted two joint Tweetchats with RAS-ACS this year. The first one was discussing the role of the surgery resident in the operating room and the second one was #DearIntern, tips for new interns. I've also had the opportunity to collaborate in writing an article for the College's August Bulletin so be on the lookout for it!

How did you become interested in surgery?

It was not obvious at first. I went into medical thinking I would be a pediatrician. Soon after I scrubbed my first case, a Whipple procedure, and had the opportunity to palpate the liver and touch the bowel, I was hooked. I still remember my conversation with Dr. Amalia Cochran as a second-year medical student asking about women in surgery, specifically those with a family. She referred me to Dr. Leigh Neumayer who provided me with honest life advice and took me under her wing and invited me to her clinic and OR. Drs. Cochran and Neumayer nurtured my interest in surgery even when I tried to talk myself out of it, fearing the lifestyle and the stereotypical surgical personalities. After spending six months trying to talk myself out of surgery and long conversations with Dr. Cochran, I realized I could not walk away from open abdomens and the ability to provide patients with treatment and potential cures to their disease. The immediate gratification of being a surgeon, the teamwork required to function, and the dedication of the surgeon to her patients was what eventually convinced me to become a surgeon.

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

I've had many mentors! As a matter of fact, I still have multiple mentors depending on what aspect of my career I am focusing on. I often joke about being a community project, the truth is that my success is mine as much as that of my mentors. Dr. Amalia Cochran is the person I credit with my decision to become a surgeon. When I shied away and explored other specialties, Dr. Cochran did not pressure or discourage me. She was honest about the difficulties of being a woman surgeon and ensured I worked with a variety of surgical specialties to help fight the traditional stereotype of the mean surgeon. Dr. Neumayer was also extremely honest about the challenges of having a family in surgery and provided me with advice to how make it work. As a resident, my list of mentors continues to grow to include Drs. Amanda Cooper, Colette Pameijer, and Niraj Gusani who have provided invaluable advice to pursue my current research opportunity as well as tips for work-life integration.

How did you become involved with AWS?

I became involved in AWS as a fourth year medical student, thanks to Dr. Cochran (again) who encouraged me to join and encouraged us to start a medical student chapter. Since then, I got involved with the communications committee and am now the co-chair of the Twitter committee as well as the RAS liaison to AWS. I look forward to future opportunities to stay involved.

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

There are many challenges faced by women surgeons, and each is different at the various stages of training. As a medical student and resident, representation of women is a challenge. Despite the increase matriculation of women into medical school, there are not many women in leadership positions in research or medicine. As a Latina resident, it is empowering to see other women surgeons in a leadership position, it provides a strong visual aid to the things I can aspire to and accomplish in the future. AWS provides role models and sponsors as well as a network of women surgeons at various positions and interests for students and residents to reach out to.

Additionally, there challenges surrounding lifestyle and work-life integration. The underlying assumption that because you are a woman surgeon, you have now renounced your claim to a life and a family, is both discouraging and absurd. AWS provides different tools and resources to help navigate the challenges of work-life integration, and they provide members with a network of women to reach out to for advice on how to succeed at work as well as at home.

Lastly, surgery residents are at a high risk for burn out and female surgery residents are at higher risk. This year, AWS rolled out the coaching project to equip residents with the tools needed to combat burnout and maximize their potential.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

10 years is a very long time. I see myself as a surgical oncologist in an academic practice, teaching, mentoring and sponsoring residents and medical students. I see myself as a champion of diversity in medicine, where it is not a rare sight to find another Latina surgeon.

What do you do when you're #notsurgeoning?

I have multiple interests when #notsurgeoning, starting with sleeping, #surgrunning, and playing Gears of War on the Xbox, to hiking, biking, and spending time with my dogs and husband. I also stay involved with professional associations such as RAS and AWS. More recently, I have been spending a lot of time in the lab working on my experiments as a #surgeonscientist in the making.