If it seems like men dominate the orthopedic surgery field, you aren’t imagining things. In fact, approximately only 4% of orthopedists are women and the ongoing gender disparity in orthopedic surgery is rooted in reasons that range from misunderstandings to completely false data.
One stereotype that deters women from going into orthopedic surgery is the incorrect notion that the profession requires extraordinary strength and that only athletes can truly excel in the field. Although orthopedic surgery is definitely physically demanding, with today’s medical advances both men and women orthopedic surgeons can take advantage of advances in techniques and biomechanical tools to make challenging procedures easier. Today, orthopedists rely more on mental capacity than physical strength.
Some women are deterred from becoming orthopedic surgeons because they’ve been told that the field is much too rigorous and time intensive to maintain a work-life balance. While orthopedics involves plenty of hard work, it also offers a sufficient amount of flexibility and time to enjoy family.
Another discouraging factor for women is that they don’t have many fellow woman role models in the field. Studies have shown that women medical students desire to work and train with other women, so if these students don’t see many women in a certain specialty, they’re less likely to pursue it themselves. However, the number of women in the field is slowly growing, some of the most accomplished male surgeons are very encouraging towards women and there are a number of societies within the orthopedic world that promote women in orthopedics.
The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS), named after the first woman orthopedic surgeon in the United States, was created as a networking and support group for women orthopedists. Today, the society includes both women and men orthopedic surgeons, orthopedists-in-training and medical students, plus they offer a mentoring program and have published The RJOS Guide for Women in Orthopaedic Surgery to encourage women through medical school and throughout their careers.
In order to continue to attract the best and the brightest orthopedic surgeons, this industry ideally should focus their efforts on recruiting women students. Thankfully, there are many brave, intelligent women who are bucking the gender stereotypes and misinformation and choosing to become orthopedic doctors. When men and women, who bring different perspectives to the specialty, work side by side in fields like orthopedics, they learn from each other and everyone wins, especially the patients.
Advice for women in orthopedics from POA’s Dr. Susan Cero and Dr. Traci Barthel:
“Be proud of being a woman in orthopedics, you are a rock star! There are very few of us so it took gritty, hard work to get here. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do it; women are fantastic surgeons. Be nice and always help your co-residents, colleagues, attendings, and partners. You never know when you might need their help. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Go for your dreams and enjoy the ride!” – Dr. Barthel
“I’m happy that the number of women in orthopedic surgery has doubled, from when I graduated, but 4% is still a small number. As with any profession, the field benefits when the resources and brain power of the entire population is represented. Thus far, I have had a terrific 24-year career at as an orthopedist and have a great family. My advice to young women surgeons is to pick a good spouse and the right partners, and the perceived hurdles are much lower.” – Dr. Cero
At our POA orthopedic clinic, we encourage medical students to pursue any field of interest, regardless of gender, because it is the diversity of our orthopedic doctors in Seattle and beyond that helps to improve the health care we provide to our patients. Surgeons from different walks of life, different races and different cultures only strengthen the field and we are proud to support the best women and men in their orthopedic careers.