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  • Dr. Rowena Spencer Turns 91: A Baby Doctor with Strong Opinions

    Dr. Rowena Spencer describes herself as a “baby doctor with strong opinions.” She will turn 91 on July 3, 2013.

    Although she retired from pediatric surgery in 1984, she continues to reflect on the many babies she has treated. “I think of them as one baby, multiplied, and I loved everyone of them,” she says.

    She practiced pediatric surgery in New Orleans for thirty years, also conducting research and serving on the medical school faculties of Louisiana State University and Tulane University. Following her retirement, she devoted a decade to writing a comprehensive medical text on conjoined twins.

    When she began her career in 1953, she was one of the first women in the country to specialize in pediatric surgery, doing so at a time when the field itself was developing and evolving as a surgical specialty. In 1975, she was among the first group of surgeons to qualify for the Certificate of Special Competence in Pediatric Surgery from the American Board of Surgery.

    Dr. Spencer is from Central Louisiana and was the third of four daughters of Lewis Cass Spencer, an orthopedic surgeon. In 1947, she graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she was one of four women in her class, subsequently becoming the school’s first woman intern in surgery. She continued her surgical training in Philadelphia, New Orleans and Stockholm.

    Last year, as she approached 90, Dr. Spencer reflected here on her life and career. [AMSA On Call, “A Conversation with Dr. Rowena Spencer at 90,” June 29, 2012.] Her remarks prompted responses from a wide range of readers, including friends, colleagues, patients and former students.

    Dr. Spencer shares additional observations with Charles A. Fishkin, a former patient who is now a finance professor in New York.

    When you began your career, what was the state of pediatric surgery?

    Babies needed special care, and a lot of it. They needed good care specifically directed to them.

    What qualities are important for a pediatric surgeon?

    You have to have compassion. You have to have strong sympathy for the children you are working on. You have to make the experience positive for the child. It helps tremendously.

    Describe your approach to pediatric surgery:

    Plan the procedure. Do what you plan, and get it done promptly.

    What advice do you have for residents in pediatric surgery?

    You can’t just dump a baby on the exam table.

    You once worked eight years without a day off. What motivated you to sustain such an effort?

    You can’t just go fishing. If it’s my baby and I am responsible for it, I am going to be there. You just can’t turn around and walk off.

    On her experience as a medical student at Johns Hopkins:

    It was built for me. The minute I laid eyes on it, I knew it was my place. I loved every minute of it. It was an honor and a privilege.

    On her research and writing about conjoined twins:

    It was just so fascinating. It just ate me up. I just lived with twins. It was in my thoughts twenty-four hours a day.

    On herself:

    It’s been a very good life.

    Copyright 2013. Charles A. Fishkin and Rowena Spencer. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Do you know a female physician who is changing the world?

    Nomination Submission Deadline: October 1, 2012 (5pm ET)

    The Women Leaders in Medicine (WLIM) awards were created by AMSA in 2007 to recognize women physicians and educators who are changing the face of medicine through their lives, their professions, or their teaching. These women deserve recognition for their accomplishments and dedication to fostering tomorrow's women leaders in medicine.

    We are currently accepting nominations for the 2013 WLIM awards. All AMSA members are encouraged to fill out the simple online form and tell us about an inspiring woman who has influenced the student's medical career. They could be professors that you've had or they could be women who you have never met but have impacted your careers through their amazing work.

    The recipients will be invited to attend the AMSA Annual Convention in March 2013 to receive their award at a special reception. Many of our past awardees have considered their Women Leaders in Medicine award a truly meaningful honor because it comes directly from the voices of students. At AMSA, we hope to give back some recognition to these amazing women in addition to generating awareness about the importance of fostering leadership in medicine that promotes healthy change and equality in care and professional opportunity for all physicians-in-training.

    This year will be an extra special reception as it will coincide with the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA) 62nd General Assembly in Washington DC. In honor of this momentous gathering, special attention will be paid to nominees who have had an impact on the global stage. We hope you will join us at AMSA's Annual Convention for the Annual Women Leaders in Medicine reception as we announce this year's recipients!

    Submit your nomination today!

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  • Controversy on Valentine's Day

    Carl G. Streed Jr.
    AMSA National LGBT Policy Coordinator

    Last month, before taking the gavel as the new president of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Lazar Greenfield resigned. The reason: an editorial in the ACS newspaper that has divided its membership and warranted questions regarding the ACS’s attitude toward women and sexual minorities.

    Dr. Lazar Greenfield, an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, wrote in his St. Valentine’s editorial of recent research by evolutionary psychologists describing the antidepressant qualities of semen. He concluded by saying, “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”

    Following complaints, the editorial was retracted and Dr. Greenfield stepped down as editor-in-chief of ACS’s newspaper. However, mounting complaints from the Women in Surgery Committee, the Association of Women Surgeons, and many members of the ACS have resulted in Dr. Greenfield’s resignation as president-elect.

    This episode comes at a time when gender equality is just beginning to become something of a reality in medicine: nearly half of all entering medical school classes are women in the United States. However, change has been slow: fewer than a third of women medical school graduates choose to go into surgery. Much of the apprehension of becoming a surgeon is due to perceived male bias, negative attitudes of surgeons, and a lack of female mentors. Let’s not forget an unexplained $16,819 gap exists between newly trained men and women doctors. Furthermore, nearly a third of women surgeons report inappropriate sexist remarks or advances. And though Dr. Greenfield has apologized as he should, his editorial is a major setback in turning the tide on sexism in the medical and surgical profession.

    AMSA member responses to the NYTimes blog have ranged from calm and collected to absolutely aghast. Katherine Ellington, Vice President for Program Development, AMSA, had the following words of wisdom response:

    1) Good work and success never excuses poor behavior or professional misconduct

    2) Your personal point of view may not be suited for public discourse especially if it's offensive, harmful or discriminatory; you put your reputation and legacy at risk

    3) Words matter

    So following Dr. Greenfield’s resignation, we hope the ACS will more directly address sexism and discrimination within its ranks and in the broader medical community.

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