Women make up an increasing proportion of students entering the medical profession. Before 1970, women represented 6% or less of the medical student population. Now more than ever before, women are choosing medicine as a career – nearly half of first-time applicants to medical schools in 2011 were women.
Like their male colleagues, women are attracted to surgical careers for the intellectual challenges, technical aspects and the ability to affect immediate change in their patients’ lives.
As we continue to highlight the women surgeons at University Surgical Associates, Dr. Erica Clark, vascular surgeon, shares her perspective on choosing a challenging career and how she’s navigating the work and world of surgery.
Erica Clark, DO, RPVI
Q: Why did you become a surgeon?
A: I have an older brother who is a surgeon, and he encouraged me to consider the field. He felt my personality would bring something new to the table. I knew it would be difficult, but it’s always exciting and very satisfying to help someone. It’s also gratifying to make a difference in a field that less than 1 to 2 percent of the world population gets to do every day. I’ve never regretted my decision.
Q: Why do you think surgery is one of the last fields in medicine that is predominantly men?
A: I think there’s a stigma that because surgery can sometimes be long hours and work days that you can’t have a normal life. As a woman who wants to have a marriage or family – or even time for personal activities – it can be difficult to see how they can do all these things and be a surgeon.
It’s possible for surgery to be part of who you are, not your complete identify. I enjoy other things in my life, but it’s easy to let work consume you. My way of handling that temptation is to focus completely on where I am at the moment - whether that’s at work or at home. I didn’t realize during residency that there are many different ways to structure your practice. Having knowledge of these models has helped me identify my priorities and better manage work and home life.
Q: What do you think women bring to the field of surgery?
A: I think every person – man or woman – has the ability to empathize with their patients and that is what’s most important. I do think women handle multi-tasking particularly well. I feel confident in juggling the everyday stresses of life and patient care.
Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: I think it’s really rewarding to catch something and prevent a major problem. I deal with complicated patients every day who are scared about certain circumstances – like a stroke or a problem with a non-healing wound. The outcome and fear behind that is real and can change their life. I enjoy counseling patients on what we can do to prevent that outcome.
Q: Why did you choose to practice medicine with University Surgical Associates?
A: In my fellowship training, I worked for two years learning from all my current partners – who are some of the most intelligent people I know. I trust them with my own family, and they have taught me everything they knew. I’ve also seen them with their own families and patients, and I am more than happy with the choice I made to be part of this team.
Q: What would you share with women who are considering surgery as a career?
A: There’s so much more I know about surgery that I want other women to know. I almost didn’t go into surgery thinking I wasn’t firm enough or didn’t have the backbone for it. I had been told I was too nice – and that might mean I was too nice to control a difficult situation in the operating room. My brother encouraged me by suggesting that the field of surgery could benefit from my personality, too. Listening and being empathetic are not detriments to doing a good job. It’s possible to multitask and control an environment without yelling or screaming. I believe bringing more women with softer, but confident personalities to the operating room can make it better.
Dr. Erica Clark earned her medical degree from Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia. She completed a general surgery residency at Spartanburg Regional Health System in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before completing fellowship training in vascular surgery from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga.
Dr. Clark is an assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of Tennessee college of Medicine. She is a board-certified vascular surgeon who specializes in treating circulatory conditions including carotid disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), thoracic aortic aneurysm, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), mesenteric/renal artery disease, venous disorders and more.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Clark, call (423) 267-0466.