Women in Plastic Surgery: Empowering the Next Generation

by Allyson R. Alfonso, BS, BA1 (@allyson.r.alfonso, @allysonalfonso) and Ira L. Savetsky, MD2

Medical Student, NYU School of Medicine; Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health

2 Plastic Surgery Resident, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health 


The conversation surrounding gender-based disparities among surgical trainees and faculty is neither new nor resolved, but the discussion is rightfully shifting from that of observation to that of actionable change. Research on gender differences and the resultant challenges in the professional and personal lives of plastic surgeons and residents1-3 have been accompanied by proposals for improving the presence of women in academic plastic surgery4-6 and supporting wellness and family life.7, 8 As we begin to see the impact of these initiatives9, we must avoid complacency and continue to promote efforts to advance the field. This post serves as a celebration of women plastic surgeons and the attributes they exemplify daily. The aim is to empower the next generation of surgeons in their pursuit of plastic surgery, and to highlight the characteristics that make all surgeons successful. Several women plastic surgeons were asked the following question and these are their empowering responses.


If you could identify one attribute to describe the key to being a
successful woman in plastic surgery, what would it be and why?


Perseverant

“People often experience obstacles in residency of varying kinds, and it is important for one to keep pursuing one’s dreams and to be strong enough to overcome them.”

Kristen A. Aliano Messina, MD
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas


Integrity and Grit

“You ultimately have to conduct your career and your life in a manner that is authentic to you, so when you interview really be yourself, and when you rank programs, think about where you felt like you could thrive as you. With authenticity, there will be consequences, and you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try, so resilience and persistence and a little bit of indifference to the judgement of others will give you the grit you need to overcome most challenges.”

Sofia Aronson, MD
Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine,
Department of Surgery, Division of Plastic Surgery

PRS Research Highlight:
1. Tadisina KK, Orra S, Bassiri Gharb B, Kwiecien G, Bernard S, Zins JE. Applying to integrated plastic surgery residency programs: Trends in the past 5 years of the matchPlast Reconstr Surg. 2016;137(4):1344-53.


Resilience

“There will be hurdles to overcome in your career or personal life. Be resilient and be the best you can be!”

Mihye Choi, MD
Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health


Passion

“Having a passion for plastic surgery fuels a determination to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and aspire for excellence.”

Oriana Cohen, MD
Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health

PRS Research Highlight:
1. Cohen O, Lam G, Karp N, Choi M. Determining the oncologic safety of autologous fat grafting as a reconstructive modality: An institutional review of breast cancer recurrence rates and surgical outcomesPlast Reconstr Surg. 2017;140(3):382e-392e.

2. Cohen O, Lam G, Choi M, Ceradini D, Karp N. Risk factors for delays in adjuvant chemotherapy following immediate breast reconstructionPlast Reconstr Surg. 2018;142(2):299-305.


Ingenuity

“Plastic surgery requires ingenuity to apply our techniques in the novel situations each patient presents. As a woman, this same ingenuity allows us to apply our talents and gifts to be resourceful to solve the uncharted paths life opens to us as we work with others, care for our friends and family and discover all the world has to offer. It allows us to find balance in unique ways.”

Julia Corcoran, MD, MHPE
University of Illinois Chicago, Division of PRS


Grit

“It takes grit for anyone to make through a surgical residency and to achieve a meaningful career, but women sometimes need an extra dose to reach their personal goals, particularly if they want a family. The profession gives accolades for high professional productivity, but not for starting a family. Some programs welcome pregnant residents and breast-feeding surgeons, but not all, so in some instances it takes grit to go against the culture of your institution and have children, breastfeed them, and make yourself available to them during the finite years they are home.”

Heather J. Furnas, MD, FACS
Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Department of Surgery, Stanford University School of Medicine

PRS Research Highlight:
1. Furnas HJ, Li AY, Garza RM, Johnson DJ, Bajaj AK, Kalliainen LK, Weston JS, Song DH, Chung KC, Rohrich RJ. An analysis of differences in the number of children for female and male plastic surgeonsPlast Reconstr Surg. 2019;143(1):315-326.

2. Garza RM, Weston JS, Furnas HJ. Pregnancy and the plastic surgery residentPlast Reconstr Surg. 2017;1:245-252.


Versatility

“As a plastic surgeon, you are faced with unique challenges every day. Sometimes your first, second and even third plans are unsuccessful. The ability to pivot and approach a problem from a new perspective is essential.”

Alyssa R. Golas, MD
Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health


Courage

“Plastic Surgery provides incredible opportunity for innovation, creativity and a positive impact on patient’s lives. It takes courage to speak up, to reach high, to dig in and to really engage fully with what Plastic Surgery has to offer.”

Amy M. Moore, MD
Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Ohio State University

PRS Research Highlight:
1. Tung TH, Chao A, Moore AM. Obturator nerve transfer for femoral nerve reconstruction: Anatomic study and clinical applicationPlast Reconstr Surg. 2012;130(5):1066-74.

2. Poppler L, Schellhardt LM, Hunter DA, Yan Y, Mackinnon SE, Wood MD, Moore AM. Selective nerve root transection in the rat produces permanent, partial nerve injury models with variable levels of functional deficitPlast Reconstr Surg. 2017;139(1):94-103.


Know yourself well

“Identify your strengths and highlight those. If you’re lucky enough to find a supportive life partner, allow them to support you unconditionally with home care, childcare and other responsibilities often traditionally scribed to women. Share your successes with other women in training and celebrate yourself!”

Karen M. Horton, MD, MSc, FACS, FRCSC
Private Practice, San Francisco


Drive

“With true drive you can push through obstacles and rise to any challenges that come your way.”

Rukmini S. Rednam, MD, FACS


Versatile

“Versatile implies adaptability, well-roundedness, proficient, masterful and flexible. The fun in Plastic Surgery is applying concepts to solve problems. But, every problem, although similar, may require a different approach. It is always important to have several options and back-up plans, be insightful and flexible enough to adapt and change the plan as needed to suit a given individual’s problem.”

Rosiane Roeder, MD, MPH
Private Practice  – Piedmont Plastic Surgery and Dermatology


Perseverance

“Generally speaking, I think the same qualities in both women and men lead to success in surgery. However, there are often more “life” obstacles for women, and being able to persevere through obstacles is an essential factor in success.”

Carolyn R. Rogers-Vizena, MD
Department of Plastic and Oral Surgery, Boston Children’s Hospital

PRS Research Highlight:
1. Rogers-Vizena CR, Saldanha FYL, Hosmer AL, Weinstock P. A new paradigm in cleft lip procedural excellence: Creation and preliminary validation of a lifelike simulatorPlast Reconstr Surg. 2018;142(5): 1300-1304.

2. Saldanha FYL, Levites H, Staffa SJ, Roussin C, Allori AC, Rogers-Vizena CR. Maximizing educational impact in plastic surgery residency lessons from resident learning styles and experiential learning theoryPlast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2019;7(7):e2252.


Find your passion and do what you love

“Throughout your training and career you will inevitably face challenges, set-backs, and guilt with trying to balance your personal life. If you’re doing what you love, you’ll persevere.”

Amanda Silva, MD
Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Chicago


Resilience

“There will be lots of people who may discourage you along the way. But if you feel it is truly what you are meant to do, go for it! It’s a wonderful field and well worth the blood, sweat and tears it took to get here.”

Meredith Vandegrift, MD
Private Practice


The authors and readers of the PRS Medical Student Corner sincerely thank all of the plastic surgeons who shared their experiences in this post. Your advice is invaluable and inspiring.

If you’re a medical student and are interested in contributing to the PRS Medical Student Corner or subscribing to email notifications, please complete this interest survey.


References

1.         Furnas HJ, Garza RM, Li AY, Johnson DJ, Bajaj AK, Kalliainen LK, et al. Gender Differences in the Professional and Personal Lives of Plastic Surgeons. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018;142(1):252-64.

2.         Furnas HJ, Li AY, Garza RM, Johnson DJ, Bajaj AK, Kalliainen LK, et al. An Analysis of Differences in the Number of Children for Female and Male Plastic Surgeons. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;143(1):315-26.

3.         Bucknor A, Kamali P, Phillips N, Mathijssen I, Rakhorst H, Lin SJ, et al. Gender Inequality for Women in Plastic Surgery: A Systematic Scoping Review. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018;141(6):1561-77.

4.         Plana NM, Khouri KS, Motosko CC, Stern MJ, Anzai L, Poudrier G, et al. The Evolving Presence of Women in Academic Plastic Surgery: A Study of the Past 40 Years. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018;141(5):1304-10.

5.         Andry D, Moliver C, Phillips LG. An Analysis of Female Plastic Surgery Authorship: Where Are We Today? Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;143(1):327-31.

6.         Santosa KB, Larson EL, Vannucci B, Lapidus JB, Gast KM, Sears ED, et al. Gender Imbalance at Academic Plastic Surgery Meetings. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;143(6):1798-806.

7.         Bourne DA, Chen W, Schilling BK, Littleton EB, Washington KM, De La Cruz C. The Impact of Plastic Surgery Training on Family Planning and Prenatal Health. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;144(5):1227-36.

8.         Garza RM, Weston JS, Furnas HJ. Pregnancy and the Plastic Surgery Resident. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2017;139(1):245-52.

9.         Smith BT, Egro FM, Murphy CP, Stavros AG, Kenny EM, Nguyen VT. Change Is Happening: An Evaluation of Gender Disparities in Academic Plastic Surgery. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2019;144(4):1001-9.

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