Majority people in medicine consider surgery as masculine field to obtain profession since it requires a confident, commanding and competitive temperament. Though how do women differ from their male surgeon colleagues and how do these differences affect patient care? Such questions are uncovered in the book “The Woman in the Surgeon’s Body” written by Joan Cassell. The author makes thorough and detailed research of women-surgeon’s lives in the field of surgery which is considered largely a man’s world.
Joan Cassell starts her book from the question of what anthropologist is doing while studying surgeons. She mentions the everyday responsibilities of Maureen Barucci who is only one of those numerous surgeons-female Cassell is going to research further in her book. The anthropologist is compared to a child: “the people she studies must teach her their exotic language and customs”. That is why, Cassell follows each of her 33 surgeons from five cities in the Midwest and East Coast of North America in their everyday professional and family life. As Cassell says, after conducting studies during five months in a certain medical community she only starts to learn their language and “needs to reach the stage” when she would understand the music, that is, what people mean when they use those words. Gradually, Joan Cassell learnt to interpret the language of surgeons, not only the words, but also the silence. Thus, first chapters of the book can be interesting not only to medical students or surgeons themselves, but also to every person who is interested to open the closely guarded curtain of surgery, at least slightly.
As Cassell explains further, one of the main surgeon characteristics is that they love challenges. During operation they are very concentrated on the process and its result, and these are the best and the happiest moments for them since they can heal the patients or save their lives. While nurses can have coffee breaks or launch, surgeons keep going until the surgery procedure is finished. Sometimes such procedure might take up to thirteen hours, but in majority of cases it lasts several hours maximum. Thus, Cassell emphasizes that profession of surgeon presumes a lot of pressure, hard work during many hours, ability to follow several operations in the short-time period, be able to cope family life with such strict and hard working schedule, etc.
Detailed descriptions in the book help readers to learn more about the responsibility which is on the surgeon’s shoulders and raise the question about the quality of care that comes from the surgery culture. Cassell provides a unique portrait of the day-to-day reality of American female surgeons who conduct heroic actions every time they are in the operation room. Due to these descriptions, readers follow surgeons in their working days while they are walking through long corridors, scrubbing before operation, acting during the operation itself and afterward when surgeons might have only several minutes to rest before the next operation begins. Then readers meet families of these brave and hard-working surgeons and observe interviews with the physicians and all other people who surround them in life starting from colleagues, nurses, patients and ending with husbands and children.
One of the main questions Joan Cassell asks during the whole process of observation is how these women influence or are influenced by their experience as surgeons. Certainly, not all female physicians decide to obtain profession of surgeon since except excellent knowledge of the field, it also requires strong character, high level of concentration, and desire to work hard under high pressure during long hours. That is why, Cassell joins many other people who wonder at surgeons’ strengths and choice of such a career.
Cassell’s book is not just informative pages of writing; it contains research and analysis of whether male and female surgeons have different approaches and styles of their work and what effect these styles have on the patients they care. Sometimes it is very hard to follow surgeon career for some women since during long time this profession was completely male-oriented. Female surgeons might not be considered professional, experienced or allowed to make difficult operations because of so-called “work or gender discrimination”. However, it should be emphasized that both men and women get the same high education in surgery: they study at the same universities, they are taught by the same professors, they read the same books and they have practice in the same hospitals. Thus, there is no reason for such work discrimination toward female surgeons. Both men and female in surgery should be appreciated or judged only by their experience, skills, level of proficiency, etc.
Before writing the book “The Woman in the Surgeon’s Body” Cassell had many other researches on male surgeons and surgery field as a whole. In the current book she states that nothing much changed from her previous observations. She presumes that the reason might be the insistence of the authoritarian ethos that do not allow women to enter the field of surgery freely. Certainly, there are both awful and wonderful moments and aspects of being a surgeon, both male and female. Though, the main task of these people is to help their patients. In this case work or gender discrimination seems out of question.
Since Cassell points her attention to internal and external forces that affect the differences between male and female surgeons, each chapter of the book gives vivid illustrations and detailed descriptions from the taped interviews that only support the idea that basically there is no big difference between male and female surgeons. The difference is only in their experience as professional surgeons, ability to provide urgent help, and skills to treat patients before, during and after operation.
Though except professional life, Joan Cassell examines the family life of female surgeons. She wonders how these women can keep order inside their families after fast paced and hysterical way of everyday life at the working place. How their husbands and children react on the situation that they do not see wife/mother as often as other families do? How female surgeons are able to simultaneously cope with family and working life successfully? Thus, the title of the book “the woman in the surgeon’s body” has such a deep meaning. Here Joan Cassell asks the question whether a feminine body can be embodied in a surgeon’s identity and ethos (used to be of male) and whether there is actual difference between the professional worlds of male and female surgeons.
It is important to mention that during the whole book Joan Cassell inspires those women who decide to choose surgery as their future career. Whether it is “hidden” or vivid inspiration and appreciation toward female surgeons, book provides deep exploration and detailed analysis of women’s place within a male-dominated profession and surgery world. Current book raises essential and vitally important questions about the lives and experiences of female surgeons and gives readers an insight into the surgery worldview.