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.
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.
The best advice I can offer to women entering a male dominated field is this: use humor to your advantage. For those rare awkward moments, humor can often be more powerful and transformative than protest. And, I have to add, it’s far more enjoyable.
By the way, a surgical drill doesn’t require much muscle. Grace is more important. I ended up working with that quiet neurosurgeon and we became friends over the drone of a drill.
To find more from Katrina Firlik’s, visit her web site here.
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