Friday, Feb. 19, 2016
Take off the mask and you’ll see what a surgeon looks like. A surgeon may look like Paula Ferrada, M.D.
Ferrada is associate professor of surgery and director of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program. The Colombia-born, Harvard-educated trauma surgeon has been a national leader in the “I Look Like a Surgeon” social media campaign that sprung up last summer, in the wake of a similar “I Look Like an Engineer” phenomenon. Through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other channels, participants are working to shatter stereotypes and show that physicians, especially surgeons, don’t conform to a prescribed appearance.
A former surgical resident in North Carolina, Heather Logghe, M.D., is credited as the founder of the movement, launching the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon. Within two days, it had gone viral, with thousands of tweets using the hashtag and surgeons posting photos of themselves in action.
American College of Surgeons President Andy Warshaw, M.D., weighed in, tweeting, “We all look alike in the O.R. It’s quality, not gender, that counts.” The Association of Women Surgeons promoted the initiative on its website. By the end of October, #ILookLikeASurgeon had more than 100 million impressions (the number of times content is displayed on various social media platforms).
“The campaign touched something dear and important to a lot of surgeons,” said Ferrada, who tweets at @pferrada1. “And then it became not just about the gender gap but about all diversity.”
#ILookLikeASurgeon helped bolster efforts to change perceptions and offered a lead-in to important conversations, she said.
In a world where females compose 50 percent of medical school students, why are we not recruiting those females into surgery?
“In a world where females compose 50 percent of medical school students, why are we not recruiting those females into surgery?” Ferrada said. “Why are the conversations about work/life balance exclusively for women?”
Though Ferrada said she didn’t necessarily notice a glass ceiling in medical school or residency, as she was working her way toward faculty leadership positions she recognized the rules are often different for women. “You realize that you have to work harder. You have to ‘correct’ for being a woman. You can’t be too loud, or too quiet, too aggressive or not aggressive enough.
“But we should just say, ‘I’m going to be who I’m going to be. You’ll have to judge me by my results.’”
And while society as a whole needs to be more accepting, Ferrada feels VCU does a good job of championing diversity and has offered opportunities for leadership. “If it weren’t a diverse place, I wouldn’t have lasted here,” she said. She calls her department “a melting pot of cultures, races, ethnicities and beliefs, all working for the same goal.”
For women especially, Ferrada believes VCU’s MCV Campus excels, offering open conversations about diversity, opportunities for advancement, perks like a lactation room and day care center — and each year welcomes a good number of pregnant residents who are supported as they blend work and family, which, Ferrada notes, are not mutually exclusive.
She and her husband Rahul Anand, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine, have built distinguished careers and still had time for their 6-year-old son. “Everybody has some degree of mommy guilt,” she said. “But if you’re fulfilled and happy with yourself, you’ll be able to make everybody around you happy.”
She counsels women who are hesitant to pursue medical careers, “Think about what you want to do, what gets in between you and your goal, and most of the time you will see yourself.”
And in the meantime, she plans to continue to forge ahead with #ILookLikeASurgeon and will keep on tweeting. “Society is changing, and I want to be part of the change.”
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