Here’s How I Handled Being a Woman in a Male-Dominated Field

Whether you want to focus on your minority status or ignore it is up to you

Photo Credit: krissikunterbunt/Shutterstock
Photo Credit: krissikunterbunt/Shutterstock

In deciding to become a surgeon I promised myself one thing: I would never become the bitter female surgeon. Better to make a radical career change, if necessary, than to lead a stable but bitter life. It’s not that bitterness is uniquely female in any sense. Believe me, I know plenty of unhappy male physicians. It’s just that I had come across a couple bitter female surgeons along the way and they scared me a lot more than the bitter male ones did.

It could have been that the selective few I had met were older and had gone through their training during a different era, when the idea of women in surgery was still relatively new and not wholly accepted. Still, I resolved never to let myself fall down the slippery slope of harsh behavior, easy profanity, and loss of femininity that I imagined might lurk in the dark corners of a male-dominated specialty.

There are many ways to play the woman in the male-dominated field, but no right way. Some choose to highlight their status as a minority, hoping that shining a spotlight might help to improve inequities for themselves or future colleagues. Others, myself included, tend to downplay or even forget about their minority status because it’s of little personal importance, such that shining a spotlight would seem contrived. But even if you don’t play the woman card in an overt way, your simple presence can have an influence as a seamless part of the team. The thinking here is: the more seamless and natural, the better.

Excerpted from Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik, MD with permission from the author.

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