November 21, 2023

Highlights from the 2023 Michigan Women’s Surgical Collaborative Symposium

The Michigan Women’s Surgical Collaborative brings together people from around the country every year to spotlight issues facing women in the surgery, network with one another and workshop solutions.

This year’s symposium was held November 2 and 3 and the theme was “Embracing risk: Taking chances and cultivating your career identity.” Speakers and panelists from multiple institutions and specialities took on topics ranging from embracing personal identity to defining (and redefining) success in surgical careers.

Christie Hunter Arscott, author of “Begin Boldly: How Women Can Reimagine Risk, Embrace Uncertainty, and Launch a Brilliant Career,” participated in a fireside chat centered on the book’s theme. Arscott has done extensive scholarly work in the realms of political science and gender research and serves on the Women’s Leadership Board of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. She has spoken to leading organizations and institutions including the World Economic Forum, Harvard Business School, the University of Oxford and the Global Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society.

According to Erin Perrone, MD, chair of the MWSC, besides bringing together thought leaders from around the country to combat issues among women and underrepresented minorities within surgery, the meeting left attendees with real connections and inspiration.

“This year’s MWSC Symposium was amazing. Those in attendance described the two days as ‘Therapy I didn’t know I needed’. We hope that those who attended left with a sense of renewal and the courage to take those small risks towards an impactful and successful career,” Perrone said.

Here are just a handful of many powerful moments from the symposium.

See all photos here.

Founding MWSC members are recognized

Dana Telem, MD, MPH; Gurjit Sandhu, PhD; Erika Newman, MD; Dawn Coleman, MD; Janet Dombrowski, MHSA; Jennifer Waljee, MD

The MWSC Award is presented at every symposium to recognize an individual or group of individuals who serve as exemplary leaders and empower women in academia through education, raising consciousness and implementing change initiatives.

This year, the founding members of the Michigan Women’s Surgical Collaborative were recognized for pioneering the collaborative.

An advocate within

Dr. Romano speaking at the 2023 MWSC conference; Dr. Bartlett

Jennifer Romano, MD, MS, spoke about disrupting the status quo, and the tough road that sometimes must be traveled along the way.

She also shared that one of our longest-serving faculty members showed up for women in surgery when allyship was sorely needed: Robert Bartlet MD, father of ECMO and professor emeritus in the Department of Surgery, advocated for her when she experienced harassment while working in his lab.

A powerful pivot

Dr. Bonnie Simpson Mason speaking at the MWSC 2023 Conference

Bonnie Simpson Mason, MD, was forced into early retirement from surgical and clinical practice due to rheumatoid arthritis. She shared how she overcame a significant roadblock to transition to a new career: Delivering curriculum on business of medicine and practice management, coaching women on leadership and, through her not-for-profit organization Nth Dimensions, increasing the number of women and minority leaders in medicine and health sciences.

She found that purpose–regardless of the role she held–was what drove her.

Career transitions

Dr. Diana Farmer speaking at the 2023 MWSC Conference

Diana Farmer, MD shared her unlikely journey to pediatric surgery, from studying Eastern medicine to leading a lab focused on regenerative medicine targeting spina bifida.

A curious mindset, happy accidents, changes in direction and personal sponsorship were the keys to her landing where she did which she describes as “serendipity.”

Putting boldness into action

Dr. Susan Pitt, Christie Hunter Arscott, and Dr. Dana Telem at the MWSC 2023 fireside chat

Christie Hunter Arscott, MSC, MST, led a fireside chat inspired by her book “Begin Boldly: How Women Can Reimagine Risk, Embrace Uncertainty, and Launch a Brilliant Career.” 

The panel discussed ways to take risks to move careers forward, pivot as needed and create structure within organizations to encourage more risk taking.

Arscott stressed the importance of organizations supporting culture change and creating the infrastructure to do so: “It can’t be just a sideshow based on volunteer efforts. It has to be embedded into the entire organization.”

Be true – to yourself and others

Dr. Carrie Cunningham talking at the 2023 MWSC Conference

Worrying about what other people think can make being vulnerable hard – if not impossible.

Carrie Cunningham, MD, MPH, shared pearls of wisdom from her journey through adversity and left the group with a powerful takeaway: Focus on being your best self, not what others think of you.

Change is scary, and freeing

Dr. Susan Pitt talking at the 2023 MWSC Conference

Susan Pitt, MD, MPHS, discussed the challenges that come with being a people pleaser and needing to do what’s right for yourself and your career.

The key takeway: Sometimes the right career moves require uncomfortable, daunting change.

A powerful journey to a personal identity

Dr. Gifty Kwakye speaking at the 2023 MWSC Conference

Gifty Kwakye, MD, MPH, shared how she embraced her personal identity as she traveled her career path. Part of solidifying that identity meant wearing her hair natural and no longer straightening it. The catalyst for her to do this: Her children, who were navigating their own identity.

Advocacy doesn’t stop at the top

Drs. Erika Newman, Carrie Cunningham, Michelle Caird, Dee Fenner, Diana Farmer talking at the 2023 MWSC Conference with the quote "There is a special place in hell for women who climb the ladder and cut the ropes." by Madeline Albright displayed

A slide featuring Madeline Albright and a quote attributed to her served as the backdrop for a panel discussion on fostering a supportive environment.