Dr. Linda Alejandra Cernichiaro Espinosa
Asociación para Evitar la Ceguera en México, I.A.P.
What would the world be without diversity? Race, culture and gender are amongst the most relevant differences that generate disparity. VBS, in junction to RetinaLink, invited women at VBS to an early breakfast to discuss. Being a daughter of an amazing and hard-working pediatric surgeon, and a current mentee of a great female retina leader (Dr. Audina Berrocal), I felt very motivated and proud to write this review.
I was expecting to see only women retina surgeons and fellows interested in increasing awareness, sharing experiences, and finding solutions through female mentors. However, it was very gratifying that men were also present. Just as during retina surgeries, you go in expecting one thing, and find something different. The plan needs to be changed to obtain better results.
The participants I spoke with shared some very interesting perspectives. I will summarize some key points from the amazing conversations I had with attendees at the meeting. First, a common argument is that women are verbally treated differently by patients. Sometimes this does not necessarily translate to intentionally offensive comments, but instead it reflects the social perception of male dominance in science and medicine. Second, a strong self-perception has a positive correlation with career success. This confidence has to be effectively projected to patients and colleagues (especially men). Third, finding female mentors within the family, and throughout different stages of training is always rewarding. Mentors have faced similar challenges long before the mentee. In fact, there is a perception that early career women today are less likely to have been directly discriminated against, in comparison to those that are more senior. In actuality, there are still significant challenges for professional women, and there remains clear under-representation of women in our field.
The problems are real, and solutions are needed. To raise awareness, Nicole Sheeler has announced the #ilooklikearetinasurgeon campaign, a platform to improve female presence in retina societies. Drs. Nina M. Berrocal, Maria H. Berrocal, Lejla Vajzovic, Camila V. Ventura, Avni P. Finn head the initiative.
Do women need to behave like males? Absolutely not. Women need to discuss issues, generate leadership, and be supported by our male colleagues. Indeed, Drs. Thomas Albini, Paul Chan, Jorge Fortun, and Ross Lakhanpal (part of the VBS committee)showed sincere congruence with the VBS inclusion motto. The tags #isupporther and #iworkwithher have been created for those men who truly believe that collaboration, women support, equality and diversity will strengthen and improve the field.
Participants had a photoshoot at the end of the meeting to start the “I Look Like a Retina Surgeon” Campaign, and the very last person to be photographed captured my attention: a successful uveitis specialist with her (why not?) future retina surgeon baby girl. To note, her husband (a well-known, accomplished retina specialist who was also in the breakfast) is a true supporter of females. There are many men like him.
I invite the readers to get involved. To all women and men in retina: be interested, be honest, improve, and generate partnership. Understanding gender differences and admiring the potential of collaboration will generate a change, and of course, excellence.
RETINA Roundup VBS VI Coverage:
3/27/2018 VBS VI: Historic Delivery of Gene Therapy for LCA
3/27/2018 VBS VI: Surgical Adventures – Curing One Eye at a Time
3/26/2018 VBS VI: Retinaws
3/26/2018 VBS VI: Complications Session
3/26/2018 VBS VI: Women of VBS Breakfast
3/26/2018 VBS VI: Endophthalmitis Session
3/25/2018 VBS VI: Retina Caliente
3/25/2018 VBS VI: Lifetime Mentorship Award: Jay Duker
3/24/2018 VBS VI: Surgical Adventures – Bridging the Gap
3/24/2018 VBS VI: Real World Retina – Practice Management, Private Equity, Advice for Young Retina Specialists
3/24/2018 VBS VI: Medical Retina
3/24/2018 VBS VI: Live Surgery Session
3/23/2018 VBS VI: Fellows’ Forray
3/24/2018 VBS VI: Welcome to Miami