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Tampa surgeon works to get more millennial women into the operating room

Margie Manning

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Dr. Sharona Ross

There’s a generational gap between Baby Boomer women and younger women when it comes to the surgical profession.

Dr. Sharona Ross, a surgeon at AdventHealth and professor of surgery at University of Central Florida, wants to help close that gap.

Ross spearheads the Women in Surgery Career Symposium, an annual gathering in the Tampa Bay area that draws several hundred women. This year’s event will be Feb. 15-Feb. 16 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach.

The symposium, now in its 10th year, serves as a forum to talk about the issues and challenges facing female surgeons as they work to advance in a changing but still male-dominated field. Fewer than 20 percent of surgeons are women, according to the Association of Women Surgeons.

Dr. Sharona Ross

“I really believe women belong in surgery,” Ross said. “By nature, they are more nurturing. You don’t need to teach a woman how to give bad news to a patient, or how to sit and hold a patient’s hand. It comes more naturally to a woman.”

She also said women surgeons tend to make smaller incisions and “gentler” moves in the operating room, although she conceded she was generalizing and some male surgeons can be gentle as well.

“It’s such a rewarding profession that I want other women to do this,” Ross said.

The symposium gives the women surgeons in attendance a chance to share success stories and hear advice on breaking through the glass ceiling in surgery.

Ross, who was born and raised in Israel before moving with her husband to the United States, launched the symposium a decade ago, after seeing how few women medical professionals aspired to become surgeons because they had negative perceptions of the field. A surgical career was viewed as male-oriented, and women feared they would not be able to have both a career and a family. “One factor was a lack of mentorship,” Ross said.

So Ross, who was in her first year as a University of South Florida surgeon at the time, collaborated with Covidian (now Medtronic) on the first symposium, hosting what she thought would be a few women in the living room of her home. More than 100 women turned out and “I couldn’t get them out of the house until after midnight,” she said, recalling thinking that, “If there was that much of a need in the Tampa Bay area, there must be a need all over the country.”

The first national symposium drew women from more than 25 states, Japan and Europe, and it has continued to grow since then, she said.

Over time, she’s also seen changes in how women in different generations interact.

“The first few years, I sensed some level of resentment among the older professional women surgeons, towards younger ones who had family and kids. The older ones felt they sacrificed to pave the way for the younger ones,” said Ross, who considers herself part of Gen X, born right after the Baby Boomers. “It took a few years but now in the 10th year, the successful ones, those who have made it, are not just presenting research, but come to the symposium with the knowledge that they are dedicating the weekend to the younger generation of women who want to be surgeons. They come knowing they are volunteering time and knowledge, and young women come looking for mentorship.”

Still, Gen X and millennials have different priorities than Baby Boomers do, including heightened interest in life outside the operating room, Ross said. Boomers think younger people don’t work as hard, while Gen X and millennials think boomers work too much, she said. “There has to be something in the middle.”

To address all generations, the symposium’s agenda includes sessions on work/life balance as well as sessions on patient care, establishing a practice and regulations and compliance.

Ross’ aim is to increase the number of women in surgery.

“My goal with this event is to not need it one day because we’ll reach a point where women are not a minority in the surgical profession,” she said.

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