Have you ever thought about why, despite veterinary science being a female dominated profession, there are relatively few female veterinary surgical specialists, and even less female veterinary orthopaedic surgeons? Who better to discuss this with than Dr Sue Gibbons, who has been doing primarily orthopaedics since 2002, and became a small animal surgical specialist in 2006. Sue currently runs a mobile surgical business, Specialist Surgical Solutions, servicing Brisbane and surrounding areas.
Given that our profession is dominated by women in the workforce, why do you think so few seem to do orthopaedic surgery?
It can be scary when you first start out. It’s a numbers game; the more you do the better you get. It’s hard to find mentors who are prepared to hand over the tools and take the time to teach you. It’s traditionally a male dominated field so I guess women have to prove themselves a bit more to be accepted in this field. I used to be the butt of many jokes like how women can’t use power tools and have no sense of direction particularly when placing implants. I also get lots of comments about how strong you have to be to do orthopaedics, but it’s all about technique not strength.
What is the best part about performing orthopaedic surgery? Any benefits to being a woman?
It’s often challenging; no two dogs are the same. It’s satisfying to see your results on the post-op radiographs (i.e. instant gratification!).
What is your typical day like?
Running a mobile business means that my work day is somewhat unique. I usually drop the kids to school, do a few consults and two to three surgeries. My car is my office! I have awesome nurses that come to my house at night to pack and sterilize my kits.
Any advice for women considering a specialist career? Anything you wished you knew beforehand, honestly?
If you want to have kids, consider getting your Fellowship/Diploma out of the way first.
Write down your reasons for wanting to do Fellowship at the start of the journey because there are likely to be times when you question this decision along the way.
What do you think is the biggest barrier as a female veterinarian and/or specialist? How have you handled or overcome it?
Barriers to becoming a vet/specialist as a female include juggling family, long unpredictable work hours and getting back into the workforce after maternity leave. I have overcome this by running a mobile surgery service which allows me to work more flexible hours. It is helpful to have lots of back up (family, hired help) to assist with running a household and childcare if/when you get stuck at work.
General barriers to becoming a specialist include many years of low income, long hours, additional study and the examination process.
What do you think is the main causes of gender disparity?
Do you think the veterinary surgeons board, or the associations should take steps to benefit or hinder the gender bias?
Possibly. Many women have suggested that some kind of refresher course would be helpful for those re-entering the work force after prolonged maternity leave to ensure they are up to date. Equal pay regardless of gender would be another potential topic for discussion.
What do you think are the steps needed to attract more women to pursue further education or specialist positions in surgery?
Shared working weeks/fortnights, part-time/split shift rosters etc.
You have been in the veterinary industry for several years and have accomplished so much! Have you noticed any changes or shifts as time goes on?
There are more women involved in surgery in general and in orthopaedics.The greatest general change in my time is the shift to digital imaging.
If you’d like to meet this extremely accomplished surgeon, why not register for the VetPrac workshop in Perineal and Urogenital Surgery Workshop on August 24-25, 2018. Dr Sue Gibbons will be an educator at this workshop, alongside Dr James Simcock and Dr Peter Delisser. VetPrac is not biased with respect to gender roles – both male and females veterinarians are most welcome to attend our workshops!