Dean's Update

September 24, 2021 - Aron Sousa, MD


This is the last Friday of Women in Medicine Month, and as for the prior weeks of September, I have turned over the Dean’s Update and the Town Hall to an alumnus to write about a woman in medicine who inspired them. This week, our author is Lisa McElroy, MD, MS (CHM ’09).

After finishing her MD at the College of Human Medicine and the Leadership in Medicine for the Underserved program, Dr. McElroy went to the Medical College of Wisconsin for her residency training in general surgery. During her residency, she went to Northwestern for her master’s degree in health services research and outcomes research and then did a transplant fellowship at the University of Michigan. After completing training, she took a position in abdominal transplant surgery as an assistant professor of abdominal transplant surgery at Duke University. Without further ado, Dr. McElroy, the update is yours.

Despite never meeting a woman physician before starting medical school, I was fortunate to draw inspiration from many women once I started my medical education and surgical training. Perhaps the most formative of these experiences was with Sussan Bays, MD, FACS.

I was assigned to work with her during my third-year surgical rotation in Saginaw, Mich., as part of the Leadership in Medicine for the Underserved Program. Up until that point, I had never met a practicing surgeon who was a woman, and I had never considered pursuing any form of surgical training. In retrospect, this was a bias of mine influenced in part by popularized portrayals of “surgeon personalities” and the lack of diversity in the field. It took Dr. Bays less than a week to change my perception of what a surgeon looks like. She was a kind, compassionate physician who shepherded patients through terrifying and intimate problems with empathy and candor. She was also humble and respectful towards everyone she encountered. She was also a decisive and competent surgeon, a skilled educator, and a respected leader. I remember watching her during my rotation and being struck by how open she was about her roles as mother, wife, daughter and community member. I realized over our time together that her willingness to share her whole self was part of her skill and excellence. She was an extraordinary physician and surgeon because of those other roles, not despite them. Her patients and team responded to this transparency and rewarded it with their trust. Upon overhearing people talk about her, I remember thinking: “This is how you want to be regarded when you’re out of a room.”

My experience with Dr. Bays changed my perception of surgeons, but more importantly it deconstructed my own bias as an obstacle to admitting to myself how much I actually loved being in the operating room and taking care of surgical patients. Pursing a training in general surgery was a last-minute change I was relatively unprepared for, and Dr. Bays was extraordinarily supportive of my interest. She reached out to colleagues to expose me to a broad range of surgeries – and actually allowed me time away from her clinic so I could participate in those experiences. She also helped me secure sub-internships despite my own lack of preparedness for such a competitive specialty. She was the first person I thought of when I received word that I’d successfully matched into general surgery.

My appreciation for this early exposure to a woman surgeon only grew as I progressed through my training and faced the fatigue and stress – and now the enormous privilege and responsibility – that accompanies our work as attending physicians. I frequently get approached by medical students about whether surgery is a welcoming profession for women. My unwavering answer is “yes, there’s a place for you and more importantly – we need you.” Surgery remains a homogenous field, but we are working hard to improve our inclusiveness and recruit trainees from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. The last few years have helped accelerate this progress, and I’m happy to say that more and more our field has recognized that a diverse workforce leads to better outcomes and improved patient satisfaction.

I have really enjoyed the four essays from our alumni this month. In addition to Dr. McElroy’s essay, I encourage you to find and read this month’s essays from Dr. Marsha Rappley, Dr. Janet Osuch, and Dr. Herminia Bierema.

A common theme from each was how difficult it was for each of these women to find a woman who was a physician as a mentor or provider. I hope times are changing, but I recall hearing from a couple of our students (catch Elisabeth Milligan and Allison Hoppe during their May 7 Town Hall) that in many communities, access to physicians of whom one can ask questions is difficult and access to mentorship continues to be a struggle. Our pipeline programs are meant, in part, to help address this issue – check in our progress on pipelines at today’s Town Hall.

A few bits of news for you today:

  • You can watch the Culture of Caring Town Hall with Clinical Professor of Medicine Howard Schubiner that followed on the screening of the film This Might Hurt.
  • You can also watch the DEI Grand Rounds Dr. Roberto Montenegro, “Addressing Interpersonal Racism in Medical Institutions.”
  • The LCME team is ramping up work for our visit in March of 2023. The formal self-study and independent student analysis (ISA) generally start about 18 months before a site visit. Next week I will charge the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee, the elected representatives of the students, to begin their planning for the ISA. And, the LCME team will begin convening the college’s self-study task force and sub-committees.
  • This week the Town Hall will have Dr. McElroy and Dr. Liz Lyons talking about their work. Dr. McElroy studies health disparities in transplant medicine, and Dr. Lyons will be talking about pipeline programs to medical school admissions.

The MSU dashboard for known cases looked a little better last week, but transmission in our counties is still high. We will see what happens in the next few weeks as it gets cooler, and more events move indoors. Wear your mask, and continue to encourage vaccination.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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