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A Passionate Voice for the 6%
Q&A with Nancy Yen Shipley, MD, dedicated champion for women in surgery.
Publish Date: September 21, 2021   |  Tags:   Diversity Equity Inclusion Opinion Orthopedics
Nancy Yen Shipley, MD

Orthopedics is a male-dominated field. What needs to be done to remedy that?
This is a very big topic because we have to address the underlying causes of the disparity. Part of it is the perception of the work itself. Orthopedics is a physical specialty, but women can do it — and do it well. We need to inform the next generation of female surgeons that gender shouldn’t be a limiting factor when deciding which field to enter. That’s one of the reasons I started The 6% podcast, which is named after the small percentage of women surgeons in the field of orthopedics today. I know I can reach more people at all levels of education through the vehicle of a podcast.

What topics do you discuss during the podcast?
I interview women in traditionally male-dominated fields about what drives them, how they became interested in their careers and what makes them tick. I hope the interviews inspire and motivate women and girls with aspirations to enter male-dominated professions, but I also hope male listeners get a true sense of what it’s like to pursue a demanding career as a minority in the field.

What is the most frustrating microaggression you face?
The most consistent one I’ve faced is untitling. That’s when individuals, consciously or unconsciously, fail to acknowledge who I am in the situation and the title I’ve worked so hard to achieve. I was on a conference call recently, and the host of the meeting introduced the male surgeons by name and title — Dr. Jones and Dr. Smith and so on. The host then introduced me as “Nancy.” These incidents are exhausting. They make surgeons who are at the top of their game feel less than adequate, and can have long-lasting effects.

How will increased representation improve orthopedics?
When surgeons walk into ORs and feel like their voices count, like they’re supported, they are better able to provide quality care. Emerging research also shows that patients benefit from diverse care teams. On the other hand, when there’s a lack of diversity in health care — as is the case in orthopedics — caused by biases and microaggressions that essentially eliminate half of the population from even entering the field, patients lose out on being cared for by some of the best and brightest surgeons out there. But merely attracting a diverse pool into the field isn’t enough. There must be an environment of support and respect even after surgeons complete their education and training. Implicit bias not only occurs early on in schooling and training, but also in the work environment from colleagues, administration, other healthcare workers and even patients.  OSM