Take off the mask and you’ll see what a surgeon looks like. A surgeon may look like Paula Ferrada, M.D.
Ferrada is associate professor of surgery and director of the medical school’s Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program. The Colombia-born, Harvard-educated trauma surgeon has been a national leader in the “I Look Like a Surgeon” social media campaign that sprung up last summer, following in the wake of a similar “I Look Like an Engineer” phenomenon. Through tweets, Facebook, blogs and other channels, they’re working to shatter stereotypes and show that physicians, especially surgeons, don’t conform to a prescribed appearance.
Taken after a grand rounds conference, the photo of Paula Ferrada, M.D., with general surgery residents and faculty was tagged #IlookLikeASurgeon to show surgeons don’t conform to a prescribed appearance.
A former surgical resident in North Carolina, Heather Logghe, M.D., is credited as the founder of the movement, launching the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon. Within two days, it had gone viral, with thousands of tweets and surgeons posting photos of themselves in action.
American College of Surgeons President Andy Warshaw, M.D., weighed in, tweeting, “We all look alike in the O.R.; It’s quality, not gender, that counts.” The Association of Women Surgeons promoted the initiative on its website. By the end of October, #ILookLikeASurgeon had more than a hundred million impressions (the number of times content is displayed on various social media platforms).
“The campaign touched something dear and important to a lot of surgeons,” said Ferrada. “And then it became not just about the gender gap but about all diversity.”
#ILookLikeASurgeon helped bolster efforts to change perceptions and offered a lead-in to important conversations, she said.
“In a world where females compose 50 percent of medical school students, why are we not recruiting those females into surgery?” Ferrada wonders. “Why are the conversations about work/life balance exclusively for women?”
Paula Ferrada, M.D., spoke at the Latino Medical Student Association’s southeast regional conference on the value of advocating for what you believe in.
Though Ferrada says she didn’t necessarily notice a glass ceiling in medical school or residency, as she was working her way toward faculty leadership positions she recognized that the rules are often different for women. “You realize that you have to work harder. You have to ‘correct’ for being a woman. You can’t be too loud, or too quiet, too aggressive or not aggressive enough.
“But we should just say, “I’m going to be who I’m going to be. You’ll have to judge me by my results.’”
And while society as a whole needs to be more accepting, Ferrada feels VCU does a good job of championing diversity and has offered opportunities for leadership. “If it weren’t a diverse place, I wouldn’t have lasted here,” she said. She calls her department “a melting pot of cultures, races, ethnicities and beliefs, all working for the same goal.”
Paula Ferrada, M.D., with Heather Logghe, M.D., who got the ball rolling on the #IlookLikeaSurgeon movement, and Patricia Turner, head of membership services at the American College of Surgeons.
For women especially, Ferrada believes VCU’s MCV Campus excels, offering open conversations about diversity, opportunities for advancement, perks like a lactation room and day care center – and each year welcomes a good number of pregnant residents who are supported as they blend work and family, which, Ferrada notes, are not mutually exclusive.
She and her husband Rahul Anand, M.D., an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine, have built distinguished careers and still had time for their six-year-old son. “Everybody has some degree of mommy guilt,” she says. “But if you’re fulfilled and happy with yourself, you’ll be able to make everybody around you happy.”
She counsels women who are hesitant to pursue medical careers, “Think about what you want to do, what gets in between you and your goal, and most of the time you will see yourself.”
And in the meantime, she plans to continue to forge ahead with #ILookLikeASurgeon and will keep on tweeting. “Society is changing, and I want to be part of the change.”
The eye of an eagle, the heart of a lion, and the hand of a woman.”
–Attributes of the Ideal Surgeon, 15th Century England
By Lisa Crutchfield