Jackie, in a thinkpiece she wrote during her pediatric service, reflects on her interactions with young girls and gender parity, noting that:
"...one thing that always stood out about my interactions with children was the dichotomous response to the 'what do you want to be' question. When I asked it to boys, there was an immediate and almost defiant response: Doctor. Firefighter. Astronaut. President of the United States. For the girls, the most common reactions were hesitation, uncertainty and doubt."
"[My medical school] didn't have a single female faculty [in neurosurgery], they haven't had a female resident in over a decade [...] and so they were excited to see a woman interested."
Jackie, pictured on right next to 5th year resident Kim, says in explaining the positive snowball effect that occurred at her medical school in garnering female students' interest in neurosurgery following her own pursuit of the discipline. Both Kim and Jackie agree that much of what drew them into neurosurgery as a specialty were their colleagues.
"It's the people, definitely."
"Every case is totally different, there's a lot of creativity, each one represents its own challenge."
Is something Jackie loves about neurosurgery. She spends a lot of time in the operating room, but there is plenty going on elsewhere in the department. Click around the image below to explore the neurosurgery residents workspace.
The residents also emphasize that "our department makes it possible," when it comes to creating equal support and encouragement for both men and women seeking to have families or home lives. Institutions play a critical role in shifting unfair expectations for women surrounding familial roles.
5th year resident, Mary, who has a husband and toddler, seems to embody the classic paradigm of a woman who 'has it all' but doesn't really feel that way about it and says, "You have to create space to experience that [having it all] on a moment to moment basis" amidst the business of having a demanding career and family life. Mary's path to neurosurgery was more meandering than most. She was an NCAA runner and after graduating from Stanford with a degree in human biology and master's in biological sciences, she did animal research, traveled, and ultimately became interested in medical communication which led to her later enrollment in medical school.
"It is exhausting, tiring, and I love it."
Resources on how to go about balancing family and career as a female neurosurgeon aren't in abundance, as one might expect. Mary, after having a child late in her residency, authored a post on how to manage residency and breastfeeding, based on research and her personal experiences.
Her background in medical communications keeps her attuned to both subtle and overt challenges women encounter in assimilating into the culture of neurosurgery, modifying their behaviors, and even introducing new ways of thinking and working into the field.
She says over the years she's learned a lot about how to conduct herself by "growing into [her] shoes" and that this is a learning curve many female residents must overcome. Now, nearing the end of her residency, she enjoys being in a specialty that values her skill and competency as a physician, gender aside.
Explore how earlier women paved
the way for these surgeons.
Some sections contain graphic images of operation, all patient de-identified, and all photos obtained with proper approval, and consent from all parties, departments, and individuals involved and belong to Graywill Creative Projects.