I’m a female surgeon. I feel uncomfortable telling girls they can be one, too.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Arghavan Salles and her colleagues examined biases held by health-care workers. They found that professionals across the field — both men and women — exhibited explicit bias regarding women, more likely thinking that men should be surgeons and women should pursue family medicine (though female health-care workers were significantly less likely to hold these biases). These aren’t all “bad apples”; we all have biases. However, consciously or unconsciously, we don’t always see surgery as a place for a woman.

We don’t tell this to the young girl aspiring to enter medicine. And that’s what makes me uncomfortable. No matter how much we tell her she can do anything, I worry we’re misleading her on all the obstacles she’s bound to face along the way.

We never tell her the reality of life as a female surgeon in a profession where the boys’ club is alive and well. Or that she will probably be looked over for promotions and leadership positions; will be less likely to get important research grants or be made a full professor; and will earn less for doing the same job as a man. Or that her dreams of scalpels and the bright lights of an operating room will be dimmed by people who assume she isn’t the surgeon.

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