What do you picture when you think of a cosmetic surgeon? This summer a wonderful thing happened: surgeons, namely female surgeons, started Tweeting images of themselves to promote the idea that our medical community is evolving and becoming more diverse—and the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag was born.
Here at the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, we are proud to support and work with an inclusive and diverse group of intelligent, qualified, and highly trained surgeons. We love the idea behind the hashtag, and we’re proud to empower our female surgeons and celebrate the abundance of perspectives born from a diverse group passionate about helping others.
We spoke with some of our female ABCS board certified cosmetic surgeons about their experiences as women practicing in a traditionally male-dominated field:
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female surgeon?
Dr. Maria Lombardo: “My residency experience was fraught with stereotypes and feeling like I had to prove myself all the time. I received the usual comments when rounding at the hospital, from patients it was ‘Oh, the nurse is here’—and from fellow residents and surgeons, ‘If you can’t handle the stress (or hours or physical demands) your (male) colleague can help you…’
Even today, in a solo practice which bears my name, I have patients who come in and say “You’re a woman?!” I was recently consulting with a new patient—with whom I had spent over 30 minutes reviewing medical history, talking about her issues, and discussing the surgical options—and she asked me, ‘When do I meet the doctor?’”
Dr. Nicole Patel: “I would say the greatest challenges [of being a female surgeon] are during the application and training process. There is still discrimination and bias which makes it more difficult for females to obtain positions in plastic and cosmetic surgery programs. However, once you have completed your training there is likely some advantage to being a female, given the majority of patients are female and many women prefer treatment by a woman.”
What do you think most people expect a cosmetic surgeon to look like?
Dr. Lombardo: “I think the expectation is the ‘he’ will be a little older, very distinguished looking, maybe with some salt & pepper or gray hair. With the growing popularity of TV shows featuring plastic surgery, I think that the expected age is getting younger, but is still decidedly male.”
Dr. Patel: “I would think a man older than 50 would be the most common expectation—and I imagine the majority of plastic surgeons practicing in America fall into this category.”
What about you breaks the mold of a stereotypical surgeon?
Dr. Lombardo: “I went to art school before I went to medical school, and I considered culinary school at one point. I have always been a creative person, and I now consider my cosmetic surgery and injectables practice to be my art form.”
Dr. Patel: “It is unusual for surgeons to spend a lot of time with patients—this is typically done by ancillary staff. I spend a great deal of time with my patients and often do some ‘counseling’ as I want my patients to feel good about themselves, even if that means avoidance of procedures. There are many factors that bring someone to seek cosmetic treatments, and I feel it is important to talk to my patients and learn about their concerns and goals. It is important to remember what is important in life and keep things in perspective.”
Has anyone reacted to you in a humorous or unexpected way because of your appearance?
Dr. Lombardo: “Recently, a post-op patient came in to see me with her young children. The kids waited in the lobby while I examined their mom. When we came out, the littlest daughter exclaimed: ‘Mommy, your doctor is a girl!” I couldn’t help but laugh and proclaim, “Yes! I am!” She looked right at me and said ‘that’s cool!’ I hope that she always remembers that she can do anything she sets her mind to!”
Dr. Patel: “If I ever answer the phone in the office it is assumed I am the receptionist because I am a woman—even if I answer the phone saying “this is Dr. Patel.” The caller continues to speak to me as if I am the receptionist and asks questions about what ‘the doctor’ does, even though he/she is speaking to the doctor!”
Do you feel the ABCS supports an inclusive and diverse set of surgeons?
Dr. Lombardo: “I absolutely do! With doctors coming from varying backgrounds (e.g. general surgery, ENT, Oral Maxillo-facial, OB/GYN), from all over the US and internationally, and, of course, both men and women, I cannot think of a more diverse and inclusive group. I love that we all bring our own perspective to the education and training of our peers.”
Dr. Patel: “Absolutely yes!”
Follow the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag on Twitter, and be sure to check out the recent article on the Huffington Post!