By Ciara Parsons, BA'15
In January 2017, the Canadian Medical Association reported that of the 10,069 surgeons practising in Canada, a mere 28.4 per cent were female.
Dr. Lesley Barron, MD’96, a general and breast surgeon at Georgetown Hospital, is part of this small community of female surgeons in Canada. She believes female leadership in medicine, especially in male-dominated surgical specialties, is the key to encouraging more women to consider these areas of practice.
Now, Dr. Barron is using her perspective to speak about her experiences in medicine and raise awareness about the issues she feels strongly about.
Dr. Barron didn’t always envision a career in medicine for herself. It wasn’t until she participated in a summer research scholarship program that she started thinking more about becoming a physician rather than a lawyer or business leader.
She followed her interest in science to Western University, where she completed two years of undergraduate studies before entering into the Doctor of Medicine program.
During her clerkship rotations in medical school, she had the opportunity to assist in general surgery at Victoria Hospital and recalls the excitement she felt completing the clinical tasks associated with the specialization.
“When I began working in general surgery I thought, ‘this is a great specialty.’ It was a way of dealing with a cross-section of populations—young, old, male, female. And in general surgery you deal with a variety of situations, from those that are very serious, down to issues that are minor,” said Dr. Barron.
She believes it was the perfect choice because of her personality and her calculated approaches to problem solving.
Following graduation, Dr. Barron completed her residency in general surgery at the University of Calgary. A master’s degree from the University of Birmingham in Medical Research focused on breast cancer metastasis was next on her list before she moved to Australia with her partner to practise medicine.
Now that Dr. Barron has returned to Canada, she has emerged as an outspoken voice in the medical community and has held leadership positions, such as sitting as a Board of Directors with the Ontario Medical Association.
She has also developed a social media presence, cultivating a solid base of medical and scientific followers on her blog and Twitter account.
“If you’re not on Twitter, nobody knows you,” joked Dr. Barron when speaking about her activity on social media.
Of the many health care issues she addresses on her blog and Twitter, gender-bias in medicine, specifically in surgery, is an issue she has remained vocal about.
“I think there is a lot of gender-bias in medicine. I don’t think I realized it as much when I was going through my training, but in retrospect, a lot of my experiences seem clearer now,” Dr. Barron said.
With more and more female physicians stepping forward to share their experiences, new social media campaigns to create visibility and discuss the inequity in the health care system, such as the recent #ILookLikeASurgeon campaign, have taken Twitter and Facebook by storm.
Dr. Barron believes the gender-bias in medicine is a by-product of the health care system’s organization, which makes it difficult for physicians to take time off. This is evidently troublesome for female physicians who go on maternity leave for extended periods of time.
Females, she says, often receive unfair critiques of their work, or are given fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.
“As a resident I was given feedback in clinical that on one rotation I was too shy and that I seemed reluctant to complete procedures. I was told that I needed to put myself more ‘out there’ and talk more,” said Dr. Barron. “Taking this advice, the next rotation I made sure to be very enthusiastic and tried to be more involved. When I was critiqued again, I was told I was ‘too aggressive’ and that I needed to back off. These are situations that make you feel like you can’t win.”
She notes that medicine has made progress in the area of gender-bias, but more change is needed.
This, she believes, can be achieved through greater dialogue and with the medical community coming together to bring the issues to light.
“Now, thanks to social media, female surgeons and physicians are actually talking about these problems and realizing there is a large community of women who are facing the same lived-experiences in medicine. We’re realizing it’s a systemic issue,” she said.
Emphasizing the role of women in helping to support other females in medicine, Dr. Barron says she tries to empower the female residents and medical students she encounters by supporting them and encouraging them throughout their training.
She is also keen to take on health care focused leadership positions in the future to create positive change to the system.
“Health care leadership needs more women involved in it, as we make up almost half of physicians,” she said. “Travelling and working in different health care systems has given me a broader perspective. I think it’s important to have different experiences so that you can see how other health care systems function and use that to inform your point of view or practice.”