Destigmatizing women in surgery, one inspiration at a time

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Ikshwaki Kaushik, a final year medical student (intern) in one of the leading universities of Georgia. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  This reminds me of surgery, the field of miracles. Surgery is where doctors fight against death to bring patients back to life. Being born in India and raised in Dubai, it was this dream of becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon that pushed me to come to Tbilisi Georgia to study medicine.

Three years ago, when I fainted while attending my first surgery, a male surgeon told me that surgery was too hard for women. His words made me more persistent and passionate. I also remember how my biochemistry professor asked me about my desired specialty and when I replied it was cardiothoracic surgery, she said: All the best having a family with that. All this made me wonder why it was perceived so hard and uncommon for us women to pursue surgery. Why is it that women made up only 20% of USA general surgeons and 13.2% of consultant surgeons in the UK for instance. I knew my path was going to be challenging.

One year later, I did a professional exchange in Poland. Standing dressed in scrubs with a scalpel in hand, working on one of her operations was Dr Barbara. We first hit a conversation on our common favorite topics, that of our love for surgery and dogs. Soon she saw my enthusiasm for surgery and invited me to join her and it was the very first time I got to wear scrubs, a moment I will never forget. That is when I knew this is who I wanted to be in the future.

Another inspiring leader was my dean Nino Tabagari, with all her work and duties as a dean, professor and doctor, she is always there for all students listening and supporting us. I witnessed how she was working until late hours over the weekend and still makes time to join and play with her grandchildren. 

Lately I joined the American College of Surgeons and started following inspirational stories shared by the women in surgery committee. This keeps my motivation growing to join the female surgeons’ community.Despite all the demotivation and scary vision shown by some people, it was women like my dean, female surgeons, professors and my supportive mother who never once doubted my choices and kept supporting me in the pursuit of my ambitions.

It is time for women to decolonize surgery. Today’s female students need mentors like Dr Barbara Czaslawska and Dr Nino Tabagari to trust, encourage, and mentor them. We need professionals, doctors and professors to share their stories, inspire the new generation and destigmatize participation of females in fields like surgery.

Reflecting again on Einstein’s quote, it is because of these women in healthcare and my life that I chose to believe in miracles and keep chasing my dream of becoming a female surgeon in this male dominated world.

About the author

 Ikshwaki Kaushik was born in India, raised in Dubai and is currently a final year medical student (intern) in one of the leading universities of Georgia. She is currently serving as the IFMSA Strategies development assistant as well as the national exchange officer, got Georgia active in the IFMSA Research exchange committee, and bagged a page in IFMSA’s biannual magazine (MSI) 41. She is a student ambassador and member of other international organizations such as The American College of Surgeons. She wants to become a surgeon and work in the field of education and advocacy in surgery.

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