By Jolie Leung
In celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2023), the Department would like to recognize WOW: Wonderful Orthopaedic Women. Conceived by Orthopaedic surgeons Drs. Lane Dielwart and Lee-Anne Laverty in September 2020 as a digital network of support for women in Orthopaedics in BC, it has provided a safe and supportive space for women to share their experiences, challenges, and triumphs.
Chancing upon an unexpectedly in-depth discussion, Dr. Dielwart of Kelowna and Dr. Laverty of Trail, then strangers to one another, found themselves openly and candidly discussing their experiences balancing their careers with their personal lives, managing burnout, and dealing with busy trauma lists in the summer. Coming to the realization that they had connected so easily due to their shared understandings as women in orthopaedics, they planned several more calls to find a way to connect all of the women in orthopaedics in BC, including Dr. Fay Leung of Richmond. Their efforts eventually became WOW, a safe space for women in orthopaedics and chat group hosted on WhatsApp.
Dr. Fay Leung identified one key point of WOW as an opportunity for women to share work-related experiences, particularly regarding work-life balance; she prefers the term “work-life integration” as a descriptor of how the demands of work inside and outside of medicine are interdigitated rather than ever truly balanced. WOW has served as a support circle to discuss the societal differences in the expectations of women in medicine, as well as the impact of increased workload on women, who frequently also manage households and parenting demands.
Aside from discussion of work-life integration, WOW has also served as a space for women to explore career-related issues. The platform has been an opportunity to discuss and collaborate on issues that affect surgeons across the province such as surgical backlogs and resource scarcity. Challenges that pertain to women specifically are also explored. Dr. Leung referenced a group discussion on several papers discussing barriers to women accessing leadership such as communication style; for example, women may feel pressure to shelve their leadership qualities in order to avoid appearing aggressive or offending peers.
Although Orthopaedics and medicine as a whole continues to broaden the horizons of diversity and intersectional inclusivity, small discussion groups such as WOW maintain their value. After a recent UBC Orthopaedics Grand Rounds presentation on gender biases, Dr. Leung observed that most women felt more comfortable sharing their experiences in the more intimate setting of the WOW chat than sharing their viewpoints publicly to a large audience.
So far, WOW has 28 members, and has organized an annual meeting, which also served as a wellness retreat, attended by 6 members and facilitated by Dr. Laverty. She described the retreat as “an opportunity for attendees to heal from common challenges they face as women in orthopaedics, and form connections with one another.” Having personally found the experience transformative and developed a newfound experience of belonging in orthopedics, Dr. Laverty also shared her aspirations for the future of WOW. Currently, the group is interested in working with UBC Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and other physician engagement opportunities to support their activities and broaden their community of support.
Despite the small and historically underground nature of WOW, the collective works to expand the applicability of women’s advocacy and the delicate relationship between private support groups and the wider Orthopaedic community. Dr. Leung notes that advocacy for issues historically relegated to women such as household involvement has also given more opportunities for men to take more active roles in their families.
Dr. Leung also emphasized her desire for intersectional diversity and inclusion in Orthopaedics. In the future of overall involvement, leadership, and excellence in Orthopaedics, she urges women early in their Orthopaedic careers to consider opportunities for advocacy for patients and for themselves, and to participate in research efforts that further knowledge around equity related issues.