Wanted: Smart Young Women For Male-Dominated Medical Fields

By Robin Erb
Detroit Free Press.

The minute she slipped on the scrubs and stepped into the hospital corridor, Imani Page was hooked.

“I put these on and I’m thinking ‘Right. This is what I want to do,’ ” the Birmingham Groves High School senior said Saturday, her voice raised over the pounding of hammers and the shriek of drills. Behind her, a rod was being pounded into a fake femur, the pale pink marrow spitting out the end of the bone and across the slick surface of the lab table.

Here in the Beaumont Hospital surgical learning institute, surgeons, researchers and engineers faced one of their most daunting challenges in medicine on Saturday: Persuading smart, young women to follow them into fields long dominated by men.

“We think it’s an issue of exposure,” said Jenni Buckley, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Delaware, as well as executive director of the California-based Perry Initiative, which coordinated Saturday’s workshop at the Beaumont facility.

The nonprofit Perry effort began with a small workshop in 2009, but it now coordinates about 40 workshops around the U.S. each year to inspire women to consider fields they may not even know about, Buckley said.

A diverse workforce will benefit patients in coming years, she said.

“We know that women are performing very highly in high school and in college in sciences, engineering and math, but they’re not choosing to go into the fields that most need them,” Buckley said.

Several of the girls Saturday said their female friends think of medicine in terms of nursing — a critical and admirable field in patient care, yes. But limiting medicine to the bedside ignores other possibilities, such as designing or creating medical equipment or, as was the case Saturday, repairing ripped tendons and shattered bones and designing replacement parts.

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