Department of Surgery Women's Council

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The University of Washington Department of Surgery Women’s Council originated in 2016 with the mission to promote gender equity in surgery. Women’s council initially included members from all practice sites and divisions and was comprised of both faculty and resident members. The council was divided into a faculty and resident council in 2018 to better address the unique issues that impact women at different career levels. A Women’s Council sponsored Association of Women Surgeons UW School of Medicine Student chapter was added in 2019 to foster development of medical students interested in entering a surgical field. Although specifically developed to advise Dr Wood on issues impacting women faculty and trainees within the department, the overarching goal of the council is to improve the working environment for all.

The faculty women’s council has been in existence since 2016 and has 14 current members ranging from assistant to full professors and residents (see below). The University of Washington (UW) Department of Surgery (DOS) Faculty Women's Council empowers and supports faculty with the goal of promoting gender equity in surgery.

One of the first tasks undertaken by the council was a survey to better understand if gender was perceived as a barrier to a surgical career within our own department at either the faculty or resident level. A department wide career barriers survey was administered and results presented at the inaugural annual Women’s Council Grand Rounds in February 2018 by Drs. Kris Calhoun, Sherene Shalhub and Nicole Zern. This work was tremendously well received and subsequently presented to a number of additional groups within the UW School of Medicine, including the Dean’s Committee on Women in Medicine and The Department of Pathology Grand Rounds. It was ultimately presented as a podium presentation at the Pacific Coast Surgical Association annual meeting in 2019 and published in JAMA Surgery.

Womens Council collage photos-faculty

Faculty (top left to right): Calhoun (chair), Zern, Berfield, Smith, Bulger, Colohan, Kim, Javid, Langdale, Flanagan, Quiroga, Shalhub, Sibulesky, Goldsberry-Long

The next major task undertaken by the council was the creation of a policy that more clearly defined standards around pregnancy, maternity and paternity leave, and lactation issues for both faculty and residents. Issues for the pregnant surgeon such as when call, clinic, and elective surgery scheduling can stop were defined, as were clearer standards regarding leave time for all genders, as well as for those adding children to their families in ways other than directly giving birth to them. The policy has finally reached its final form and is being implemented department wide. The information contained within the policy and the knowledge gained from discussions about it were helpful to Dr. Douglas Wood, The Henry N. Harkins Professor and Chair, during his work as a member of the American College of Surgeons' (ACS) committee that drafted a statement on pregnancy, parental leave and workplace accommodations for surgical trainees in 2020.

In addition to these two main achievements, UW DOS Women’s Council has accomplished other activities within the department. The second annual Women’s Council Grand Rounds in 2019 was given by our own Dr. Eileen Bulger, the first woman elected Chair of the ACS Committee on Trauma and was exceptionally well received. Our work to date was also presented at the Harkins Symposium in 2019 in a presentation entitled “Diversity and Inclusion: An Update on the Women’s Council.”  Finally, working with a member of the Resident Women’s Council, we investigated the impact of gender on grading within our multi-site, multi-state surgical clerkship. This work was accepted as a poster for presentation at the Association of Surgical Education Annual meeting during Surgical Education Week which occurred virtually due to the Covid-19 Pandemic in April 2020.

Currently, the council is working on the development of a sponsorship program, as well as addressing ongoing issues that impact the success of breast feeding among women surgeons. We look forward to continuing to work to ensure gender equity in the department.