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We Really Haven't Come a Long Way, Baby

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Headlines in all the major magazines and websites are stating that women are now -- more often than ever -- the primary breadwinners of the household, earning more than their mates (who may not be working at all).

mom leaving husband and baby for work

Dr. Nina Shapiro: For various reasons, be it better benefits, higher salary, or a more stable job position, couples are opting for Mom to go to work, while Dad stays home to take care of the kids. Is this a good thing? The jury is out on that. My question is, have women really surpassed men on the career front?

I was recently asked by the American Medical Women's Association to speak to female medical students considering a career in surgery. I did a little research in this area, and my findings were interesting. Being a woman in a surgical specialty, let alone being a doctor, was (until recently) like being an unwelcome girl in a boys' club. I trained in a residency which, at that time, was 125 years old. I was the eighth woman in 125 years to complete that program. I don't consider myself a radical feminist or anything, but I guess I am by association.

In the 13 years since I finished my training, a woman's place in the operating room continues to evolve. By 2003, 49 percent of applicants to medical school were women, and surgical residency programs are now composed of up to 20 percent women. At my institution, 15 percent of surgical faculty are women, and the same percentage are tenured.

Research on women's career satisfaction in surgery shows that the most important factors defining satisfaction relate to work/home balance, support networks, and control over work schedule. Female students considering a career in surgery are most influenced by a positive perception of career satisfaction on the part of female surgeons. Interestingly, when asked whether or not surgery is a good field for women, female surgeons rated it a 6 out of 7, while male surgeons rated it a 4.8 out of 7. This underscores the fact that role modeling is crucial for success. If these young women see older women enjoying their work, while having time to enjoy their families, the stereotype of the "boys' club" may wane.

While gender discrimination still exists, and we do have a long way to go to break through that glass ceiling, the glass is clearly getting thinner. While I am under no delusion that I can "do it all," as a role model to my daughter and to the daughters of others, I hope to engender a "perception" of satisfaction, which, thankfully, is real. Thirteen years from now, when current students are into their own careers, I hope for their satisfaction to be real as well.



next: More 'Mud Tacos' with Marissa Lopez Wong
2 comments so far | Post a comment now
artmom November 14, 2009, 11:31 AM

There is still a long way to go for women and younger generations of the early feminists are beginning to stand up for more equality, less patronizing, more voice,particularly since there is an undercurrent backlash as women do make gains.

Ten Tees January 9, 2011, 11:18 AM

Nice info! Good reading. I’ve just got a thing to offer about shirts.


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