In undergraduate institutions, women are quickly outpacing men in admissions and graduations. However, being a female doctor can still be a significant challenge. Sexism can be pervasive in the medical profession, as Angela Gucwa found out as a young doctor. Many women doctors are tracked out of the most intensive and competitive fields, says Angela Gucwa, because they are assumed to want families, therefore making them unavailable for more round-the-clock roles. Female physicians call this being “mommy tracked,” according to Angela Gucwa. However, Angela Gucwa resisted this tracking and is preparing to complete her fellowship in a highly demanding field – vascular surgery.
Angela Gucwa encourages all young women doctors to reach out to their other female classmates for support and seek older women doctors as mentors. One formal way to do this is through the American Medical Women’s Association. Angela Gucwa was a member of the American Medical Women’s Association from 2002 to 2003 while she was acclimating to the intense competition of the medical school world. Working with this professional organization helped Angela Gucwa to gain confidence in herself as a female physician and empowered her to pursue surgery as a career.
There is surprisingly little formalized support for female doctors within other professional associations or at the regional level, says Angela Gucwa. Instead, she would like to see practicing female physicians encourage other young female doctors and helping them to pursue the fields that truly interest them, regardless of being tracked into motherhood or otherwise hindered by obligations.
As a surgical resident, Angela Gucwa participated in a wide range of surgical procedures. Some of these procedures occurred over and over again, becoming the regular medical cast of characters that populated the operating room. For example, caesarean sections are one of the most common surgical procedures performed in any hospital, as are a variety of biopsies in which tissue samples are taken.
One common but complicated surgery that Angela Gucwa witnessed regularly as a surgical resident was coronary artery bypass surgery. In this type of surgery, explains Angela Gucwa, vein segments are transplanted to allow blood to flow around an artery that has become blocked due to built up plaques. These veins are typically taken out of the leg.
Another surgery that is unfortunately common according to Angela Gucwa is mastectomies, both partial and total. A mastectomy is the removal of breast tissue, typically performed to eradicate breast cancer. In some cases where there is significant family history, says Angela Gucwa, a prophylactic mastectomy may be performed in which breast tissue is removed to prevent the occurrence of cancer. Along with mastectomies also come reconstruction surgeries, notes Angela Gucwa. Reconstruction surgeries help women regain a sense of normalcy after what is often life-changing surgery.
Finally, among the list of common surgeries are the ones everyone knows as a kid: appendectomies and tonsillectomies. Angela Gucwa notes that appendectomies have decreased in frequencies with improved imaging techniques and testing, but tonsillectomies continue to be a common childhood surgery, says Angela Gucwa, often to prevent re-occurring strep infections.
Angela Gucwa is a surgical fellow with the Greenville Health System and a major supporter of virtual patient education programs for doctors in training. In fact, during her time as a surgical resident at the Medical College of Georgia, Angela Gucwa participated in a joint effort with engineers and computer scientists to develop a better virtual patient program. Angela Gucwa has also published several journal articles about these virtual patient training programs, particularly as they relate to taking breast concern histories and providing breast exams.
One specific program that Angela Gucwa worked on as a surgical resident at the Medical College of Georgia was a pilot program intended to integrate a virtual patient with breast complaints and in need of a breast exam into already existing virtual training programs. Angela Gucwa also presented the paper derived from this project with her coauthors at the Georgia Chapter of the American College of Surgeons.
Of particular interest to Angela Gucwa as a young woman surgeon was a study she participated in that compared male and female doctor’s responses to this type of virtual breast complaint situation. Angela Gucwa presented the results of this immersive study to the Association of Women Surgeons, a professional group that specifically centers women’s concerns in the profession.
One particularly innovative virtual system is something known as the “touch map.” Touch map technologies provide auto-feedback to the young doctors working with them. Angela Gucwa participated in a study that examined the use of these touch maps in training doctors to perform breast exams.
Angela Gucwa is a member of a number of different professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Society for Vascular Surgery, and the Southern Association of Vascular Surgery. Angela Gucwa always aims to belong to a range of field appropriate professional associations because these groups provide a variety of different resources that have benefited her as a young doctor.
One reason that Angela Gucwa thinks that everyone should join professional associations is that they are the best way to network. Because the majority of any given field will belong to the appropriate professional organization, meetings and conferences are the best place to network by far. Angela Gucwa has been able to establish numerous collegial relationships with professionals across the country. Many older members of the field that Angela Gucwa has met through professional organizations have stepped up to serve as mentors to the young surgeon as well.
Another valuable resource available through professional organizations, says Angela Gucwa, is continuing education programs. These programs are vital for doctors who are trying to stay on top of an ever-changing field, but continuing education is a benefit to professionals in any field. Whether it’s an introduction to a new technology or a new theoretical frame, there is always more to learn.
As Angela Gucwa is learning as she finishes up her surgical fellowships, a final reason to join professional organizations is that they are the best way to hear about job openings. Make sure you are on your organization’s listserv, says Angela Gucwa, and it will keep you in the loop about all the news and job openings in your field.
Angela Gucwa is a fellow in vascular surgery, currently completing her training in the Greenville Health System in Greenville, South Carolina. As a vascular surgeon, Angela Gucwa treats a range of conditions. Vascular conditions are those conditions that affect the arteries and veins of the body. Some of these conditions are relatively minor, while others are extremely dangerous. Dr. Angela Gucwa explains some of the more common conditions.
Varicose Veins: Varicose veins are an extremely common problem, particularly among women. These veins can be spotted because they are very swollen and raised, and therefore visible beneath the skin. According to Angela Gucwa, these veins typically appear to be bulging and twisted, and when seated or standing, they can cause blood to pool in the legs, which can be very dangerous.
Pulmonary Embolism: When a blood clot forms in a vein, there is always the possibility that it may become lodged in the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism and it is extremely dangerous, says Angela Gucwa. A pulmonary embolism may manifest itself as high blood pressure, anxiety, feeling short of breath, or chest pain. If not diagnosed rapidly, pulmonary embolisms can result in death.
Carotid Artery Disease: According to Angela Gucwa, your carotid arteries are the arteries in your neck that carry blood to your brain; they become diseased when plaques build up inside them. Blockages in these arteries are common in older adults and can cause a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, says Angela Gucwa.