SCI Spotlight

Melanie Hayden Gephart

Women represent only ~6% of board-certified neurosurgeons in the U.S. Moreover, only a handful of female neurosurgeons hold positions of national leadership. During Women in Medicine Month, we spoke with board-certified neurosurgeon and SCI member Melanie Hayden Gephart, MD. 

What are some of the challenges/obstacles you have faced as a neurosurgeon in a male-dominated field?

Currently, training on implicit bias is popular, but over my time in training, neurosurgery has still been working to overcome explicit bias. Challenges still remain given there are so few women in neurosurgery. I have many examples of where assumptions were made that if followed them it could have been detrimental to my career. I was told I couldn't do surgery as a woman because "neurosurgery can't be done part-time." There were times when I wasn't nominated for research opportunities because the people in charge thought (without asking me) that I "wasn't interested in research." I have seen and worked for marked improvement in support, balancing personal responsibilities, increasing representation, and intentional advocacy for individual success. The challenges I have faced have provided me with a shared perspective and a sense of resiliency but they do not define who I am.

What is the importance of having female mentors for inspiring neurosurgeons?

Having diverse neurosurgeons in leadership is only one of many steps needed to increase equity. You don't have to have shared experiences to understand the importance of practicing cultural humility, to recognize and validate the challenges others may face. What I found helpful in training were champions for my individual career, and I try to do the same for my current trainees. My champions helped me by making introductions, providing alternatives, helping me to stretch as a neurosurgeon and scientist. They wrote letters, made phone calls, included me in research opportunities, got me on committees, connected me with other influential members of our professional communities. I remember my challenges, and channel these for advancing the careers of my trainees, by being their biggest cheerleader, arguing back against the idea that they aren't supposed to be here, that they aren't ready, that they can't do this and achieve what they want in their professional and personal lives.  

Tell us about the exciting brain tumor research you are conducting.

My laboratory is focused on understanding how cancer cells migrate in the brain. This insight will make our current treatments both safer and more effective. We base our analyses on specimens donated by patients, which helps us be more confident that our studies reflect human disease. This has allowed us to make new scientific tools and identify new treatments, which we hope will have a real, positive, and immediate impact on patients with brain tumors. Just as important, we’re training an entire generation of brain cancer scientists to advance the field.

Share a fun fact about yourself.

I enjoy baking treats for my team, so they feel appreciated and aren't hungry!


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