Dr. Wakenda Tyler, chief of the orthopedic oncology service at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
How did you become interested in orthopedic surgery?
My interest in orthopedic surgery started when my bone pathology professor in medical school, who ultimately became an important mentor in my life and career, encouraged me to consider orthopedic surgery because he recognized I was surgically inclined and very athletic. I didn’t realize it was a male-dominated field until later, when people kept asking me if I was sure I wanted to go into orthopedics, given the stereotype of orthopedic surgeons as alpha males. My mentor was a white male, but the gender gap didn’t fully register to me until I was doing clinical rotations in medical school and spending time with other attending physicians in the field. By then, my mind was set, and I wasn’t going to let anyone discourage me. In fact, any discouragement I experienced only caused me to dig my heels in deeper.
What advice do you have for women considering careers in historically male fields?
Do what makes you happy. Do not let folks tell you the lifestyle is too tough or, in the case of orthopedic surgery, which has the perception of requiring muscles and heavy lifting, that you’re too small. None of that is true. Find your passion and follow it. Every professional field will have obstacles. I’ve seen too many people regret their choices because they let someone talk them out of something.
Find a good mentor who will support you. That mentor does not have to be female; they just have to have your interest at heart. Becoming a successful orthopedic surgeon, like everything else, takes practice, so once you find your passion, keep practicing and improving throughout your life.