‘We need to continue to be deliberate’: Dedicated society for women vascular surgeons formed

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Linda Harris

The inaugural president spoke to Vascular Specialist about the newly formed International Society for Women Vascular Surgeons ahead of this year’s Women’s Vascular Summit (May 3–4) in Chicago, outlining its genesis and goals, as well as some of the highlights of this year’s gathering.

Linda Harris, MD, a professor of surgery and chief of vascular surgery at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York, notes that she created the Women’s Vascular Summit back in 2019 and, more recently, the International Society for Women Vascular Surgeons, for two reasons: to address vascular health and disease in women, and to promote leadership among women vascular surgeons.

Reflecting on her own experience, Harris is clear: “I’ve had some wonderful opportunities, but there have also been a lot of glass ceilings.”

She says that many of the women who came before her—as well as many of her own generation—have experienced these same glass ceilings, and there was a general feeling that “it was time for a change.”

Leadership will be a key focus of the Society and of this year’s Summit, Harris points out.

“I realized early on that I never really did things like self-promote,” she explains, remarking that part of the reason why has to do with how women are brought up and conditioned. Harris continues: “There’s a lot of data showing that you can have a woman who’s more capable and more experienced and really deserves a position more than a man, and he will self-nominate and she’ll say, ‘I don’t think I’m ready.’”

Harris also considers the role of the Society and the Summit as part of a bigger picture, underscoring the importance of diversity in vascular surgery.

“It’s about having different opinions, and that’s not just male/female,” she says, also citing the importance of engaging with leadership roles in national and regional organizations.

“While there is much we can and will accomplish as a new society, it is still critically important for women to engage and maintain leadership roles in our national and regional organizations,” she says.

“We need to pay particular attention to diversity committees and women’s sections, utilizing them to help facilitate intentional appropriate changes within these organizations, allowing for all undderrepresented groups to gain traction: women, underrepresented minorities, community practice.”

Palma Shaw, MD, the vice president of the new Society, says that “the leadership looks forward to productive collaboration with the SVS, which has been very supportive.”

Meanwhile, Harris outlines some of the highlights of this year’s Summit, explaining that the agenda highlights a mixture of talks, some geared towards vascular disease in women and others dealing with leadership and other non-clinical topics. The program also zeros in on updates on a number of trials that are currently underway and how they apply to women.

Harris points out that, often at national and regional meetings, the conclusion is reached that women have different outcomes. At this year’s Summit, the aim is to go much further than this. “What are we doing about it?” Harris asks, underlining one of the key questions that need to be addressed. “Most of the time we end up saying we don’t have enough data, and that’s not good enough anymore.”

Finally, Harris hopes the Society and the Summit partner with international societies and offer virtual attendance to those not able to attend the U.S. meeting.

She also highlights the importance of the Society’s impact extending beyond her premiership. “When I started this, I didn’t want to have it be my society forever. I wanted it to be something that I could transition to others,” Harris adds, noting that a metric of success would be whether the Society is sustained after she steps aside.

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