Embracing Authenticity: A Surgeon’s Journey Beyond Conformity

Embracing Authenticity: A Surgeon’s Journey Beyond Conformity

©Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker

The field of surgery has long been associated with images of masculinity – the stereotypical strong, authoritative and dominating figure giving orders in the operating room. These perceptions, however, fail to capture the true essence of surgical prowess and the diverse skill set that contributes to success in the field. In reality, effective surgical practice encompasses a range of qualities, including precision, empathy, kindness, collaboration, adaptability and maintaining equanimity during surgery.

I embarked on my surgical journey 21 years ago as the lone woman in a department dominated by men. Not much has changed in the last two decades. Whether it is at the hospital or at a surgical conference, number of women surgeons can still be counted on fingertips.

When I first entered the field of surgery, the prevalent male culture around me felt rather intimidating. Those days there were no support networks and hardly any female mentors to look up to. The prospect of potential professional and social isolation, coupled with the fear of being underestimated, fuelled my determination to meticulously refine my foundational skills in laparoscopic and bariatric surgery. I worked really hard through those years and today, I take pride in being acknowledged among highly skilled surgeons. Yet, the realization dawned that sheer technical proficiency does not always equate to success. In the realm of professional success, factors extending beyond technical expertise assume a crucial role. Many individuals consciously craft an image or aura around themselves, projecting a specific persona aligned with perceived notions of success.

I quickly realized that attempting to adopt a borrowed male aura for success was not only impractical but also counterproductive for me. Authenticity emerged as a fundamental principle in my professional life. I needed to remain true to myself. Success, I discovered, wasn’t about conforming to preconceived notions or adopting a facade. Instead, it was about embracing and refining my own unique strengths and qualities.

In this realization, I found the freedom to cultivate a professional identity that resonated with my authentic self. It allowed me to leverage my inherent skills, communicate with sincerity, and project a genuine image that reflected not societal expectations, but my own values and capabilities. By embracing authenticity, I discovered a more fulfilling and sustainable path to success, one that didn’t require the compromise of my true identity.

Gradually, I began to forge my own path. Infusing a feminine touch and cultivating a culture of care in every aspect of my work became my signature. I wasn’t concerned about being a woman in what is traditionally considered a man’s world. While I learned valuable lessons from my male colleagues, particularly in assertiveness and financial literacy, I realized that success didn’t necessitate adopting a masculine persona. Success, I discovered, hinges on core skills and authenticity, coupled with a touch of luck.

Authenticity, an often-underestimated asset, becomes paramount in our pursuit of professional and personal success. Embracing and staying true to oneself, despite the existing gender dynamics, is not only empowering but a key component. As women surgeons, it is essential to bring one’s unique qualities, perspectives, and approaches to the forefront, challenging the preconceived notions of what a surgeon should be. As more and more women break through the barriers of tradition, they must realize that femininity need not be sacrificed for success in the operating room or in life.