Talking about women surgeons’ lives and careers

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Julie A. Freischlag

Women—and more than a few men—flocked to the inaugural Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) education session of the Society for Vascular Surgery’s new Women’s Section yesterday.

The topics of “Supporting Women Vascular Surgeons—From Recruitment through Senior Leadership” reflected the name with sessions on the needs of the youngest generation of women vascular surgeons, radiation and women, pregnancy logistics and wellness, optimal partnerships for women, the role of mentorship in advancing in leadership, and how senior women surgeons can leave a legacy.

The membership section was established roughly six months ago and followed creation of four similar membership sections, including the also new Young Surgeon’s Section. All are welcome, said moderator Audra Duncan, MD, co-leader with Palma Shaw, MD, of the section steering committee.

She told women that to become involved in ongoing setting and communicating of goals, women should simply send her their names. Many irons are in the fire. And a real priority is that everyone is seen, and everyone gets to do things they love and to talk about them, she said. “But our main goal is membership and making sure you are all engaged.”

Avianne Bunnell, MD, kicked off the session talking about the needs of the youngest women vascular surgeons and Ageliki G. Vouyouka, MD, discussed radiation and women. Other topics were optimal practice partnership for women (Patricia C. Furey, MD, MBA); the role of mentors and sponsors in advancing in leadership (Incoming President Michael C. Dalsing, MD); and how senior women surgeons can create a legacy (Julie A. Freischlag, MD).

With pregnancy and raising children an important consideration during women surgeon’s child-bearing years, Meryl Logan, MD, an Air Force surgeon, discussed pregnancy, both before, during and after, a time she called “the fourth trimester.”

“There is no perfect time for anything,” she said of pregnancy. “There is only now. You have to do what’s best for you and your family.” The same is true for when to tell the news to whom is another personal decision. “There are no rules. Do what makes you comfortable.” She added wryly, “If you’re sick all day as I was it’s hard to hide.”

Though women surgeons aren’t known for taking care of themselves, she urged pregnant surgeons to prioritize self-care. “Don’t skip OB appointments. And go to the bathroom!”

To great laughter, she told the audience that she gave herself an ultrasound during her pregnancy. Every. Single. Day. In the second trimester, tools of the trade include water and snacks. Bigger scrubs. Bigger lead aprons.

And, “If you don’t wear compression socks, now is the time to start. Wear the socks!” In the last three months, begin thinking about when you should adjust caseloads. Sit when you can. Know the baby will get in the way. Determine who will take care of patients and tell them the plan.

Consider stopping patient appointments two weeks before the due date in case Jasper or Jane comes early. In that “fourth trimester,” take as much leave as you can, she advised.

“You’ll never get it back.” Simplify life through automatic home deliveries and a cleaning person. Oursource. Prepare for any breastfeeding needs.

“If that what you want to do, you can find a way to do it,” she said. Stock extra clothes and a second nursing bra for work. “You will leak,” she said.

Finally, showing a montage of pregnant women physicians, she said, “You are not alone! “Pregnancy can suck. It did for me,” she said. “But it’s all worth it. You have these beautiful little babies at the end!”

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