Our society sends messages to females of all ages that their capabilities, aspirations, and career options are less than those of males. So can women really have it all? I think so. I was raised to focus on achieving my dreams and ambitions. For me, this means a higher education, a career in surgery, a marriage and a family. Yes, in that order.
As a recent first-generation college graduate and aspiring surgeon, the pre-med track has not been the easiest for me to navigate. I aspire to become the first surgeon in my Portuguese-American family. Not having any family in the medical field made it much more difficult to obtain any mentorship and other essential resources early on. So, I sought to learn everything I could about life in medicine on my own.
Through my experiences of interning and shadowing I quickly learned that surgery is a predominantly male specialty. I learned from the women that I have worked with that many women in the medical field have been discouraged from pursuing surgery leadership roles, as it is a very demanding specialty that can take quality time away from family and children. However, when I speak with female surgeons they constantly reaffirm that breaking the barriers of being underrepresented in surgery is not only possible, but essential. They encourage me to keep working hard since they’ve experienced as females in the O.R. that you will always have to prove yourself, skills and expertise, when you are in a specialty that is predominantly male.
When I had the opportunity to intern in Portugal, I had the complete opposite experience. In the Azores Island of Faial, I shadowed general surgeon Dra. Fatima Bairos, and was completely shocked to walk into an O.R. full of female staff, including nurses, anesthesiologist and many surgeons. It was refreshing to see women dominating the operating room and the Azorean medical field. Dra. Bairos, along with other women from the operating room, shared with me how they had to overcome barriers, such as proving their expertise and knowledge to male colleagues. These women learned to balance career and family and were fortunate to have supportive spouses and children. They showed me that it does take sacrifice and commitment to get to where I want to ultimately be, yet, it is all possible. Within the next couple of years I hope to travel back to the Azores and continue to my mentorship with Dra. Bairos as well as other female surgeons who I have met along the way. I’ve learned that I’m never alone in my journey towards an MD, I just need to surround myself with positive people who believe in my goals and ambitions. I’m so thankful to my mentors, family, friends and significant others who have supported me through it all and are always my #1 cheerleaders.
I hope in a few years, I’ll be in a place that will make my younger self proud, continuing to pursue my passion for medicine and becoming the best surgeon that I am able to be. And one day, I hope that some little girl will read about my story and might have the courage to pursue her dreams because of my example, just as I have from the examples of women I admire.
For myself, and other women, a career in surgery is possible. I think it is all about the mentality of knowing that I am just as valuable, smart, and motivated as any other man or woman aspiring to work in surgery. It may not be easy but it will all be worth it. Even with the MD on my white coat, I will continue to face challenges. Yet, I never want to lose sight of who I am and what I have done throughout the years to be capable and ready to enter the world of surgery so I can serve patients in need as a Portuguese-American, female Surgeon.
About Breana Várgas:
Breana is a recent graduate of Santa Clara University in the heart of Silicon Valley, California. Currently, she is in the process of earning an MPH degree. She is a Thyroid disease patient and advocate and started a non-profit support group along with her sister, that helps promote thyroid disease and thyroid cancer awareness, called “TalkThyroid.” She is also a Social Media Ambassador for the American Heart Association. Lastly, Breana is very involved in her local Portuguese community, including performing in a cultural Carnaval group (Portuguese traditional musical theater and dance since the age of 3). She is very passionate about medicine and even named her dog Surgeon! Follow him @surgeonthelittleman and @breanamariev on Instagram!