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October 31st, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Another day in the Frontal lobe

Editor’s Note: On Monday on AC360°, we’ll look at the gender gap at the office. Dr. Katrina Firlik will be part of our panel discussing the changing roles of women at work. Don't miss this special report at 10 p.m. ET.

Women make up only 5 percent of all neurosurgeons.

Women make up only 5 percent of all neurosurgeons.

Dr. Katrina Firlik
Neurosurgeon & Author

I remember the scene well. I’m being interviewed for a position in a neurosurgery residency program. I’m sitting across the table from two senior neurosurgeons, one friendly and talkative, the other reserved. I’ve anticipated the common questions and I’m armed with quick responses. Why did you choose neurosurgery? What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? Can you explain the research you’ve done? Where do you see yourself in ten years? The friendly one is asking all the questions and I feel like I’m acing them. The quiet one stares at me.

I sense the end of the interview and there’s a long pause. The quiet one finally pipes up: “How do you know you’ll be able to handle a surgical drill?” Now there’s one I hadn’t anticipated. And there’s one I doubt he asked the guy with the crew cut before me. Think…think. I feign nonchalance and attempt spontaneous wit: “Well…if you accept me into the program I’ll show you how I can use a drill.” The friendly one cracks a smile.

As a woman in a male-dominated field (only about 5 percent of neurosurgeons are women) there were moments like this, but they were actually rare. In my book, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside, I don’t focus on the “woman in surgery” issue as much as some readers hope. Truthfully, there just wasn’t much there. But that’s progress!

It was a different story for the generations of women who became surgeons before me, but that’s not a story that I can tell, and they are to thank for clearing the way.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Opinion • Women's Issues
October 31st, 2009
05:27 PM ET

50on50: The Halloween "Demo" and H1N1 trick-or-treating


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Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

Forty-seven days before I turn 50, I must interrupt my mission to destroy my industry's worship of the 18-49 audience demo, to bring you urgent health news. Today, we're all part of the same demo. The Halloween demo. And there's valuable advice to spread on how to proceed during this first H1N1 Halloween.

The advice comes from my CNN colleague, senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth is not a germophobe. She's always struck me as fairly laid back about these matters. Which is why she caught my attention on CNN's Campbell Brown last night with this very graphic advice:

"No grubby little paws in the bucket this Halloween. I'm handing out candy with gloves, and offering sanitizer squirts."

I hope, on this first H1N1 Halloween, that the Elizabeth Cohen method becomes, as they say on the web, viral. You can spread this link and retweet Elizabeth's message here

Elizabeth's advice certainly led my wife and me to start coaching our young children this morning not to eat their holiday candy until they wash their hands. Actually, my analytical wife observed, that's not good enough. What about the germs on all the wrappers they touch. It's gonna be a hard night of enforcement.

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Filed under: Michael Schulder
October 31st, 2009
07:40 AM ET

Dear President Obama #285: Can we trick-or-treat at the White House?

Reporter's Note: The White House has supposedly been home to several ghosts. We’re expecting a few at our place tonight too. Some haunting thoughts in my daily letter to President Obama.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I’m still wearing the pirate hat! You may recall that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that while we were getting out our Halloween decorations I found a pirate hat in a box and stuck it on my head. Well, in the spirit of “if it’s only a little funny the first time, keep doing it; it will get funnier” I have worn that hat every morning and evening at home ever since. I even took the garbage out with it on, and snarled at some little kids who happened by.

At first my family was amused, then puzzled, and then they grew bored with it. But now they are back to being amused. My wife and younger daughter even went to the pet store and surprised me by dressing up our dog, Nola, in a Jack Sparrow costume. It was hysterical. (As an aside, do you think dogs get embarrassed? We’ve dressed her up in an awful lot of goofy outfits over the years. She’s been an Easter bunny, a soccer player, an elf, a bumblebee, and she always acts as if she is afraid that the Golden Retriever down the street is going to see her.)

I’m getting off track. I love Halloween. Always have, and I want to tell you a story about that.

When I was a little kid in South Dakota, I had the coolest Frankenstein costume ever made. It had these green, satiny pants (yes, yes, I hear you giggling,) a matching top with a yellow front and this wild picture of a raging monster on it, and one of those strap on plastic masks with the eye holes about an inch too far apart for any kid who was not the offspring of close cousins. You know: the kind of mask with the little elastic band that would eventually give way, zinging your ear with the metal tip as it zipped past. (And I’m not being snarky, but that really had to be a problem for you, eh?)

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