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SICOT e-Newsletter

Issue No. 69 - August 2014

Women in Orthopaedics

The challenges of a female trainee orthopod

Peace Amaraegbulam
SICOT Associate Member - Enugu, Nigeria

The residency training in Orthopaedic Surgery in Nigeria is divided into two parts, with three different examinations organised by two postgraduate examination bodies: the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria and the West African College of Surgeons. The primary examination qualifies you for entry into the residency programme. The first part of the training lasts a minimum of 30 months with rotations through different surgical specialties leading to the Part 1 examination before one starts the orthopaedic training properly. This second part ends with the Fellowship after one has satisfied the panel of examiners in the part 2 examination.

Residency training in Orthopaedic Surgery is a male-dominated field world over, because of the perception among many that the field requires much energy which the female folks may not possess. Female enrolment in this field has therefore always lagged behind that of females in more ‘female-friendly specialties’ like Paediatrics, Anaesthesia, Public Health, and so on. Many of the males do not relate nicely with their female colleagues whom they often regard as being too daring. This attitude and others like it make life a bit difficult for the female orthopaedic trainee. And often, she may have to combine this stress with the domestic stress of running a home.

Being the only female during my time of training, and being interested in ‘extracurricular’ activities like medical politics, made life not so easy. Many of my male colleagues were antagonistic. Some thought I was being overly ambitious, not being satisfied with the more ‘female-friendly’ specialties of practice. For others, the antagonism might have stemmed from some bit of intimidation, based on a biased mindset that I wanted to prove that I could do it. Meanwhile, I was only being myself.

The home front was not always easy, but I learnt to adapt. I had to teach my children to read and to work and play on their computers. We learnt to work together, sitting on the same table while I managed to study. Of course, I often got distracted by the bickering and childhood rivalries. I also had to go to bed at the same time as them, and try to get up in the middle of the night to continue my work. Sometimes, I was not so lucky: I slept through the night. But anyway, it was a good compromise to attend to all things.

The most important aspect was getting my husband’s support during the training. Initially, this was not easy as he, being non-medical, often thought I had more allegiance to the profession and to my consultants than to him, the marriage and the children. It took months and years of submissive persistence to convince him otherwise. I am grateful for the advice of a senior female practitioner, though she was not an orthopaedic surgeon herself. She said, “The only support you need is that of your husband. We live in a man’s world and your colleagues may try to pull you down. If you have the home support, you will fly, baby”.

How right she was. The moment I cultivated my husband’s support, how much I soared.

Today, I have qualified as a female orthopaedic surgeon in Nigeria. I have also passed the SICOT Diploma Examination and I have completed some international trainings while hoping to take on some others. I enjoy so much peace and satisfaction.

In the same words, I will also encourage the females to cultivate the one best support: that of the most important person in your life, whether you are married or in a relationship. With that alone, you will excel. Without it, you will be distracted. You have to be focused. Have a vision of the kind of practice you wish to have and consciously work towards it despite any distractions. Refuse to be intimidated by your male colleagues. Be friends with those who would be your friends, and lose no sleep over those who want to push you down. Orthopaedic Surgery may require much stress, but that is the inner strength much more than the physical.

Best wishes to all my orthopaedic sisters worldwide.