Women Surgeons Gaining Clout

In surgery, as in most professions, women still face sex discrimination and are largely confined to the lower-paying, less-prestigious surgical specialties. However, there prospects are improving. Today, women run 6 of Boston’s 9 hospital-based breast centers, and at least 25 woman breast surgeons live and work in the Boston area.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Kathleen Mayzel finished her surgical residency and was eager to find work in the Boston area. She was dismayed that no hospital that was willing to hire her. “Back in 1983, nobody wanted a woman surgeon,” she said. Dr. Barbara Smith, who now heads Massachusetts General Hospital’s breast cancer center, reported that she had also faced rampant discrimination. While a student of Harvard Medical School, Smith walked into an operating room to find a group of male orthopedic surgical residents chanting, “Nuke the whales, beat the seals, and keep women out of surgery.”

Dr. Mayzel eventually was able to find work as a general surgeon, but longed for something better. Three years later, she found the opportunity that she had been looking for. In 1988, she teamed up with Dr. Susan Love to form Boston’s first woman-run breast care center. Dr. Love has now left the highly-regarded clinic, which treats patients from around the world.

Patients say that they value the psychological support granted by doctors at Mayzel’s breast clinic. Many reported that they had been “talked down-to” by other doctors and appreciate the fact that women can sympathize with what it would be like to lose a breast. Some women choose female doctors specifically for this reason. Fifty-one-year-old breast cancer patient Lorraine Parisella commented, “I think women doctors listen better and they understand the physical and emotional things that women go through.” Others argue that the ability to be nurturing and supportive is not limited to male doctors. Surgeon Clint Kaufman stated, “I have found the majority of patients I deal with don’t care whether they see a man or woman.”


Boston Globe - February 1, 1999

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