Reconnecting with alumni for International Women's Day
Alicia Baertsoen, BA'17
Clinical Neurological Sciences (CNS) alumni, Dr. Navjot Chaudhary and Dr. Amparo Wolf have gone from neurosurgery residents to international role models.
After a long day of call, Dr. Navjot Chaudhary connected with me to discuss International Women’s Day and what it means for women in neurosurgery. I could hear her smile through the phone as she recounted her experience as a female resident in the Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences (CNS) neurosurgery residency program. Six-years post-training, Dr. Chaudhary is now a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at Stanford University and was recently appointed as the Director of CyberKnife Research.
The International Women’s Day theme for 2019 is “ balance for better,” which Dr. Chaudhary enthusiastically supports. She began her residency eleven years ago and was the fifth female to enter the CNS Neurosurgery Program. When she became Chief Resident in 2012, the neurosurgery program achieved a one to one gender ratio for the first time since its inception.
“We set a precedent for future generations of women. Our female neurosurgery residents haven’t just graduated from our program, but they have gone on to pursue fellowships at top tier institutions," says Dr. Chaudhary. "In fact, two of my junior residents, who have also become my closest friends, have gone on to pursue fellowships at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic. I feel so proud and humbled to have worked with these amazing and talented women.”
Prior to 1970, women in North America made up less than six per cent of all medical students, with even less pursuing specialized training in surgery, or more specifically, neurosurgery. The last fifty years have seen great improvement in the gender disparity that was previously the norm in neurosurgery.
In 2015, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) noted that approximately 18 per cent of neurosurgeons between the ages 34-44 were female, compared to only two per cent over the age of 65. This suggests that more women are recognizing their passion for the hands-on practice of surgery; letting nothing stop them from mastering it.
Dr. Amparo Wolf, one of the junior residents Dr. Chaudhary refers to above, is currently completing her fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Wolf graduated from CNS in 2018 after winning the Canadian Neurological Sciences Federation K.G. McKenzie Memorial Prize for Clinical Neuroscience Research.
When asked about her experience as a female resident in the neurosurgery program, she noted the importance of having role models to aspire to. There were two female Associate Professors in the division of neurosurgery during her residency, Dr. Sandrine de Ribaupierre and Dr. Adrianna Ranger, both of whom remain educators and role models within the Department today.
Dr. Wolf recalls Dr. de Ribaupierre wearing many hats; juggling her research, clinical practice, teaching and mentoring, while simultaneously caring for her infant daughter.
Dr. Wolf says, “It was great to see how she managed her many roles,” as she also aspires to have both a family and a neurosurgical career.
Dr. Fawaz Siddiqi, Program Director for the neurosurgery residency program and Associate Professor in CNS, notes “role models are the major driver of parity in the future.” He believes incoming residents are looking up to the leadership, faculty and senior residents in their desired specialty, for an example of who they may become in 10 to 20 years. Without equal representation and role models who actively demonstrate to mentees they can achieve their goals in all aspects of their life, closing the gender gap becomes more difficult.
Conversations around underrepresentation of women have positively impacted the field, but further change is still needed in the realm of leadership. Dr. Wolf mentioned an influential paper by University of Toronto neurosurgeon, Dr. James Rutka, a key mentor in her career. The article highlights gender inequalities and calls for an increase in the representation of women at all levels of neurosurgery, from residency training to organized leadership.
Dr. Chaudhary and Dr. Wolf fondly recalled their residency training and spoke highly of the guidance they received at CNS. The training equipped them for success in both their fellowships and future careers. With outstanding role models, both male and female, and peers who treated them as equals, both neurosurgeons have gone on to achieve success.
With this pair leading the way, you can only imagine who will follow in their footsteps.