Kansas doctors: Mentorship can help underrepresentation of women

The Blackwell Club, at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita, brings female surgery residents and attending physicians together for community and education.



June 14, 2024 - 2:23 PM

Lindsay Strader, a colon-rectal surgeon in Wichita, founded the Blackwell Club to connect with other women surgeons and build a mentorship pipeline for those earlier in their careers. Photo by Rose Conlon/KMUW/Kansas News Service

WICHITA — Lindsay Strader says she began to feel the effects of surgery’s gender imbalance as a resident.

“I felt frustrated, but I didn’t have any kind of resource that I could go to,” she said. “There just wasn’t that kind of infrastructure at the time.”

Now, Strader — a colon-rectal surgeon at Wichita Surgical Specialists — leads a group at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita that brings together women surgical residents and attending physicians for support and mentorship.

Strader’s Blackwell Club, named after the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States, now meets regularly to discuss the unique challenges women surgeons face.

“As women surgeons, we are becoming more of a norm,” she said, “but, certainly, support needs to be there.”

Women now make up more than half of medical school graduates, but they’re still significantly underrepresented among surgeons.

“A big part of this club is recognizing what we can change out there, what we can make more equal and what areas we need support in,” she says.

Strader says she founded the club during the pandemic when she was a new mom navigating the complexities of parenting alongside a demanding career. She wanted to connect with other women who’d gone through it before and discuss strategies for reducing burnout.

She also hoped to create the sort of mentorship pipeline she wished she’d had earlier in her career.

“I want to give back to the residents and be a source of support and community,” she said, “and someone to bounce ideas off of how to make it easier.”

On a recent spring evening, a dozen participants — some in scrubs and some with young kids at their sides — gathered around the kitchen island of an east Wichita home.

Soon, the group delved into the day’s discussion: work-life balance. Strader passed out research studies. Among doctors, surgeons work some of the longest hours. That can pose more problems for women, who often have more responsibilities at home.

A 2011 study found that three-fourths of the spouses of female plastic surgeons work full-time, while less than a third of the spouses of male plastic surgeons do.

For most women surgeons, Strader said, “there’s nobody at home taking care of the house, taking care of the kids, taking care of the leaking water faucet in the basement.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a stay-at-home wife?”

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