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Female surgeons raise awareness about women in medicine with #ILookLikeASurgeon

Female surgeons address the conversation of women in medicine on Twitter with the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon.
/ Source: TODAY

When female engineers posted pictures of themselves on Twitter with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer, Dr. Heather Logghe wondered whether it was time for #ILookLikeASurgeon. Others chimed in, echoing Logghe’s thoughts, and a hashtag was born.

“It is hard to find role models that remind you of yourself as a woman in surgery. It’s been so traditionally male and unfortunately so many of the female role models have had to conform to the male stereotypes to survive,” Logghe tells TODAY.

Logghe hoped that a hashtag featuring pictures of what surgeons actually look like — women, people of color, people with disabilities — would cause others to consider those in the profession differently.

“There’s still a need for us to have the freedom to really be who we are,” says Logghe, who is taking two years off from her surgery residency for research.

Immediately, surgeons across the country began sharing photos — pictures of themselves with their families, performing yoga, in the operating room, mugging with coworkers, salsa dancing and marking life milestones.

Dr. Deanna Attai, who is an assistant clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a breast surgeon, shared her picture to remind female surgeons they are not alone.

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When the 50-year-old started her general surgery residency, Attai was the only woman in all five years of the program. There was also only one female attending surgeon.

This program felt welcoming compared to another that she interviewed for, though. One of the interviewers asked her how she would feel working with men, many of whom did not want a woman in the OR.

“That [was] not the program for me. Just some basic tolerance would have been appreciated,” she says.

Only a few years ago, Dr. Neeraja Nagarajan faced a similar bias in her med school in India. Only one female attending surgeon worked in the surgery department and people often warned Nagarajan that a career in surgery meant she couldn’t have a family.

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At a surgery conference, she encountered another Indian doctor who told her that his wife was also a doctor — though she was an OB/GYN, a position he believed to be one of the only choices for female doctors in India.

“That is so condescending,” says Nagarajan, who is doing post-doctoral research at Johns Hopkins University before joining a surgery residency. “Now, I look back and kind of laugh.”

Dr. Dana Khuthaila, a plastic surgeon in New York, likes that she sees more and more women in surgery. She tweeted pictures of herself wearing her surgery glasses because she felt she looked silly and wanted to humanize surgeons.

“I think it is very important for people to think of surgeons as people and they are just as diverse as the community they are in,” she says. “I think that people just think of surgeons as males and [it’s important to] show them what they are really like.”

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When she was in her surgery residency, Khuthaila felt the pressure to be more aggressive and many of her male colleagues looked at qualities like compassion and kindness as weaknesses. She worked hard to build her skills and showed that her “feminine” qualities made her a better surgeon.

“I didn’t want to be anybody other than me,” she says.

The hashtag has been sparking important conversations, which feels especially important to 19-year-old Jasmine Miller, a Yale junior considering a career in orthopedic surgery. Before seeing the photos and curating them she felt that being a surgeon might be overwhelming.

“Scrolling through this hashtag [showing women] being orthopedic surgeons happy in their careers and happy in their lives, it just gives me hope.”