Strides Made in Recruiting Women to Neurosurgery – More than 20 Percent of Neurosurgical Residents Now Female

Newswise — In 2007, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) recognized the need to take bold steps to recruit and retain more women in neurosurgery and requested that Women in Neurosurgery (WINS) author a white paper. “The article, which was published in the September 2008 issue of Journal of Neurosurgery, has clearly made an impact on the field with the number of new female neurosurgical residents nearly doubling from just two years ago,” said Deborah Benzil, MD, lead author of that article.

Another publication that has positively impacted these numbers is the groundbreaking book, Heart of a Lion, Hands of a Woman: What Women Neurosurgeons Do, authored by WINS and published by the AANS in 2009. Taken together, the essays, memoirs, poems and art in this book uncover the secrets of those that broke the glass ceiling in the amazing subspecialty of neurosurgery.

On November 1, 1989, a small core of women neurosurgeons gathered in Atlanta for the first time and created WINS. “Since then, the organization has served as a critical bridge from the pioneering women of neurosurgery to neurosurgery’s bright future. And now thanks in great part to the efforts of WINS, more than 20 percent of new North American neurosurgical residents are female, a dramatic increase since that historic WINS white paper was published in 2008,” remarked Shelly Timmons, MD, PhD, WINS newly elected president.

As was noted in the 2008 article, the first female neurosurgeon received Board certification from the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) in 1960, and 48 years later, there were just 189 ABNS-certified female neurosurgeons in the United States. Also noteworthy is that while women comprised 30 percent of the general surgery resident population in 2008, only 10 percent of neurosurgical residents were women. There are now 49 new female neurosurgical residents, up from 28 in 2008; and a mere 16 in 2006.

As James Bean, MD, AANS 2008-2009 president wrote in the 2008 editorial that accompanied the WINS white paper, “More than 2 centuries ago our nation was founded on the political and moral principles of equality – equal votes, equal rights, and equal opportunities. Gender, racial, and ethnic barriers have been gradually eroded, though they are nowhere fully demolished. The struggle to reach the elusive ideal continues. Women comprise more than half of medical school class attendees today, yet only account for 10 percent of neurosurgical residents and 6 percent of practicing neurosurgeons. Res ipsa loquitur. The barriers may neither be obvious nor even acknowledged, but they exist.”

Clearly important strides have been made in the last two years in part due to the strategic recommendations made by WINS in the 2008 white paper:

•Characterize the barriers.•Identify and eliminate discriminatory practices in the recruitment of medical students, in the training of residents, and in the hiring and advancement of neurosurgeons.•Promote women into leadership positions within organized neurosurgery.•Foster the development of female neurosurgeon role models by the training and promotion of competent, enthusiastic female trainees and surgeons.

Gail Rosseau, MD, a Chicago neurosurgeon, is the second female to serve on the AANS Board of Directors in the last few years. Karin Muraszko, MD, still the only female chair of a neurosurgery department in the United States, now serves as a director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. And the number of ABNS-certified female neurosurgeons has increased to around 200. “There is still a long way to go, but through the concerted efforts of WINS and organized neurosurgery, the glass ceiling can be shattered,” concluded Dr. Rosseau.

Founded in 1989, the main goal of WINS is to promote a cooperative and supportive environment among women practicing neurosurgery, including those in training to become neurosurgeons. As the group has grown, it has become an international organization with members in Asia, Europe and Africa. For more information on WINS, visit

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