Surgery is a demanding profession, but one that comes with great rewards. While the proportion of women entering medical school is nearly 50 percent, there’s still a significant gap in the number of women who choose to pursue surgery. Even fewer still are the number of women who train for a surgical subspecialty.
As we continue this series to highlight the women surgeons at University Surgical Associates, Dr. Lisa Smith, pediatric surgeon, shares what women bring to the field of surgery, the challenging and rewarding aspects of her job, and why she chose to establish her practice in this community.
Lisa A. Smith, MD, FACS
Q: Why did you become a surgeon?
A: "During my first year of medical school, I was told that I didn’t have the personality for surgery and planned to go into medicine instead. This was completely counter to the images I’d had in my mind since childhood of what I would be like as a doctor. Some of what I wanted to do was what surgeons did, so I couldn’t be the kind of doctor I wanted to be if surgery wasn’t an option. I ignored that unsolicited advice and pursued a surgical residency anyway.
Most surgeons have strong personalities, and that’s ok. I don’t believe the kind of personality matters; it’s the fortitude and strength behind what you’re doing that makes a difference and helps you be good at your job."
Q: Why do you think surgery is one of the last fields in medicine that is predominantly men?
A: "It takes a tremendous time commitment to be a good surgeon. It’s a difficult specialty, and learning opportunities often come at inconvenient times. Even when you structure your eventual practice around a timely schedule, you are at the whim of surgical disease and those who are training you. The time commitment is huge for surgical training, and the learning curve is steep. It’s absolutely possible to achieve, but this lack of control over your time makes it much more difficult to juggle the responsibilities of family and other activities outside of work. I think these factors can sometimes be a deterrent for women, who despite professional equality between men and women, still take on a huge portion of family and child-related work. Women have so many choices, but there is only so much time."
Q: What do women bring to the field of surgery?
A: "I believe women bring a different kind of organization and a different way of thinking about problems in the operating room. When we treat our patients based on best practices from all viewpoints we to make things better for our patients."
Q: What do you find most challenging about surgery?
A: "That we can’t fix everything. As a surgeon, I always give 100 percent to my patients. When things happen that are out of your control, you have to take what’s happened and make the very best of it."
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
A: "I love that surgery provides an opportunity to see a situation come full circle. I can hear about a problem, strategically plan how to address the problem through surgery, perform the operation, oversee recovery, and then witness patients moving on with their lives. It’s very satisfying to see the results of your work make a difference in someone’s life. It’s never just about the operation – being part of this process is at the heart of what makes it special to me."
Q: Why did you choose to establish your practice with University Surgical Associates?
A: "Dr. Burns’ leadership is what initially attracted me to Chattanooga, and I learned so much from him during my training. After completing my fellowship, I wanted to settle in a place that had strong support for healthcare and active community involvement. The colleagues that I trained with here also shared my philosophy of excellence and a desire to perform our jobs with the highest of ethical and moral standards.
The best part about USA – both during my training and being part of this practice – is that I’m an equal among my peers. I’m respected for my opinion and skill, and I’m treated like a lady. That can sometimes be a difficult combination to find, but it’s something that is very important to me. I was told early in my career that I didn’t need to be ‘one of the boys’ to earn their respect. This advice has served me well, and I’ve passed it along to other women who are pursuing this challenging, yet highly rewarding path."
Dr. Lisa Smith earned her medical degree from the Hahnemann U. School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She completed an internship and general surgery residency at UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before completing a pediatric surgery fellowship at Miami Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida.
Dr. Smith is an assistant professor, division of pediatric surgery, at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. She is board certified through the American Board of Surgery and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. As a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Smith specializes in chest wall reconstruction and urologic reconstructive surgery.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Smith, call (423) 267-0466.