A tipping point for women physicians at the podium

It has been suggested that once leadership of an organization is made up of 30 percent women, integration and increased success are enjoyed. As an orthopaedic surgeon, the feeling of being surrounded by so many women is not something that I have experienced. But last week I felt something close.

The International Pediatric Orthopaedic Symposium (IPOS) has been held in Orlando, Florida, for the past 12 years.  My coveted invitation to be part of the faculty fist arrived via email in 2010. At the time, only a handful of women were on the faculty, and I was forewarned that women were often rated poorly by (mostly male) audience members. Despite being mentored (by a male) and performing well, I was not invited back the following year.

Two years later I was invited back and have been since. This year the faculty was 18 percent women.  9 of the 53 U.S. faculty members were women, 1 of 11 international faculty members was a woman, and 3 of the 7 “instructors,” or junior faculty, were women.

I am not writing to comment on the success of the meeting, the increased educational value, the additional diversity of thought and educational pearls.  I am writing for a completely selfish reason. Comfort. I felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time at this meeting. There have been moments, splashes, bursts of feeling like I belonged in prior years (I have mentors and friends and mentees, both men and women, who have always brought me great joy), but this was different.  And entirely unexpected.

It started when my mentee, an instructor, texted me to connect over wardrobe and a possible tennis game.  I shared the podium with more women than men during my first talk about female athletes. I gossiped with a friend about her new boyfriend over lunch.  I met groups of young women attending the meeting, and for what felt like the first time they had a choice of women faculty to connect with. When they chose to connect with me, I felt that it was more special, given that they had a choice.

The pinnacle of this meeting may have been an embarrassing one.  I’m not going to lie. It involved karaoke. The women belted out “I Will Survive.”  The hyperbole of cliche, I felt more professional joy for these few moments than ever before.  Next to me was the only woman who has ever been president of our Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America.  She was twirling in a dignified dance with the only woman who has ever been president of the European Pediatric Orthopaedic Society.

I just felt proud.  The medical students and residents and fellows and physician assistants and nurse practitioners and research assistants and physicians that attended this meeting saw a new normal. We didn’t reach 30 percent, but I felt a true tipping point. We, as women in orthopaedic surgery, are on our way.  The way is paved, and we are on the path, on the shoulders of the giants who have not pulled the ladder up behind them.

Jennifer Weiss is an orthopaedic surgeon and can be reached at her self-titled site, Jennifer Weiss MD.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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