Women in Neurosurgery – A Growing Trend at the Miller School

Stephanie Chen, M.D., is well on her way to a career in neurosurgery. After earning her medical degree in 2015, she is now a fifth-year resident in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“I’ve always been interested in science, and found myself drawn to surgery, which is an elegant and effective form of treatment for diseases of the brain,” she said.

Dr. Chen is one of a growing number of women residents, fellows and faculty members delivering neurosurgical care to pediatric and adult patients. “Traditionally, neurosurgery has been a male-dominated field, and we are delighted to open the doors for female physicians,” said Allan D. Levi, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Miller’s School Department of Neurological Surgery, chief of neurosurgery at UM/Jackson Memorial Hospital, and the Robert M. Buck Distinguished Chair in Neurological Surgery.

On September 1, cranial specialist Carolina Benjamin, M.D., will be joining the neurosurgery faculty after her residency and fellowship at New York University. Other women faculty members include Toba Niazi, M.D., Heather McCrea, M.D., and Shelly Wang M.D., who arrives this summer – all pediatric neurosurgery specialists.

“We passed a milestone recently as our cranial service at UM/Jackson Medical Center now has more women than men,” said Dr. Levi, noting that three of the four trainees on that service are women. Allison Strickland, M.D., a cranial endovascular fellow, also joined the program this July.

The Miller School department currently has four women residents: Eva Wu, M.D.; Katherine Berry, M.D.; chief resident Angela Richardson, M.D., Ph.D.; and Dr. Chen. “Today, 20 percent of our residents are women – above the national average of 16 percent,” said Dr. Levi. “There is still a long way to go to reach gender equality, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.”

As a medical student, Dr. Richardson was initially interested in neurology, and took part in laboratory research looking at a viral vector to track pediatric cancers. Now, she draws on that background in delivering neurosurgical care.

“Neurosurgery is a growing option for women physicians,” she said. “The overall surgical culture is changing, and the Miller School is right in the forefront. The faculty are very supportive to all the residents – men and women – and our program offers great learning opportunities in the different aspects of neurosurgery.”

It’s also a perfect fit for Dr. Chen, who came to the Miller School from the University of Pittsburgh with her husband, Eric R.H. Duerr, M.D., an ophthalmology resident at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of the University of Miami Health System and the Miller School. “Our department has been awesome in fostering women in this program,” she said. “It’s a great environment to grow as a neurosurgeon.”

UM’s Department of Neurological Surgery operates one of the largest and most sought-after neurosurgery residency training programs in the country.

Encouraging more women to become surgeons is one of the Miller School’s priorities, according to Ricardo J. Komotar, M.D., professor of neurosurgery, director of the UM Brain Tumor Initiative, director of surgical neuro-oncology, and director of the neuro-oncology fellowship program.

“Today, there are more women than men graduating from medical school, and we would like to see them involved in all the specialties as well as primary care,” said Dr. Komotar. “We want our neurosurgery program to reflect the diversity of the Miller School’s students, as we train skilled and caring professionals. I am proud of our women residents and fellows, as well as our men, who have some of the brightest minds in medicine.”

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