Under pressure. This was the beginning of the career of the neurosurgeon Audrey Beatriz Santos Araújo, who lives in Belo Horizonte [Minas Gerais state] with her husband and two children. At age 23, when she graduated in medicine and the time to choose the specialty came, Dr. Audrey had already discovered her passion – the brain and its complexities, but almost gave up on her career when confronted by some colleagues. “At that time, the admission tests for medical residency had an interview as part of the score. In one place where I applied for, in the interview, I was told that neurosurgery was a man’s thing, that there they did not accept women, because the surgeries were long and exhausting and that clinical neurology was more in line with the female gender”, she recalls. The doctor then went to the Medical College Hospital at the Minas Gerais Federal University (HC-UFMG), where there were two Residency positions and, by coincidence of destiny, besides her, another woman was approved. “As I was the second to register, the head of COREME – National Medical Residency Commission – at the time, suggested that I should go home to think before signing up: they were afraid that two women together would fall to the ground and pull each other’s hair! I returned the next day and never left the neurosurgery again”, she says. Today, at the age of 49, she holds the position of neurosurgery coordinator at the Metropolitan Hospital Odilon Behrens. “Of course, I needed to give up many social and family events, hours of sleep, and I had many nights of hard work. But with family support, my parents always pushing me, my husband (not a doctor) so present that some classmates thought he had graduated with us and more two children who got used to my absence and hours on the phone and at Whatsapp, I managed to always keep myself resilient and proactive”, she summarizes.
The perceived gender bias at the time, however, is still something inherent in the present day, she believes. Even after years of career, she faces delicate situations of sexism that often arise as jokes. “Once, during a dinner I attended with a group of residents and preceptors, a male neurosurgeon asked me what I would do if the aneurysm broke. He even answered the question in a laughing tone: “Shout and pull your hair?”, she remembers. During her residency, she proved her capacity and gradually earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues and bosses. She has a master’s and doctorate degree in HC-UFMG. As a result, the specialist believes that the coordinating position came naturally, as she counted on people who knew how to recognize and value her work. “Over the years, we have been able to increase the surgical demand in the hospital and improve patient care, as well as acquire instruments and specific materials for neurosurgery. Then, when we realized it, we had a well-equipped, growing service and offering a quality neurosurgical care. The introduction of the residency program has completed this natural evolution. I’m not good at marketing and advertising, but I think if you work hard, you can get the respect of your colleagues”, she says. To build a solid and successful career, the doctor says that resilience and patience are essential factors. “Communication abilities and respect among colleagues are also important points in order to be able to remain in a leadership position in any situation”, she advises. In a public service, such as the one that Dr. Audrey works and provides care service 100% by SUS [Brazilian Public Health System], the tranquility should be even more present, since the natural difficulties of neurosurgery are mixed with the inconsistencies of the public administration. “They reinvent the wheel, everything the previous manager did, made any sense, the purpose and goals change. There’s always someone to question your decisions. So, it is not very easy to identify women who undergo such inconstancy and want to keep on to the job”, she says.
At 1327 miles away from the country’s capital, 31 years-old neurosurgeon Tammy Sabóia de Oliveira, M.D. graduated in Medicine at Acre Federal University and performed her residency at the Hospital da Restauração [Restauration Hospital] in Recife [Pernambuco State]. Dr. Tammy chose neurosurgery right after entering university. “I went into medicine to do some surgical area and did not really know what was it. When I studied neuroanatomy, I was really fascinated, and I really liked it”, she says. And nothing made the doctor change her mind. “I had no difficulties to get on my career. The only thing I can say is that this area is very hard, and the training is very intense because it is many hours of surgery, for example. But I believe it is so in every surgical area and not just in neurosurgery”, she explains. There are many differences comparing Acre with other Brazilian states, but the physician believes that this has already been left behind. “When I went to college, I saw that the neurosurgery here was very out of date. Today I do not believe that there are barriers to the specialty”, she says. As soon as Dr. Tammy graduates, about 7 years ago, the Institute of Neurosurgery and Neurology of the Western Amazon [Instituto de Neurocirurgia e Neurologia da Amazônia Ocidental] (a.k.a. INAO, in Portuguese) took over the neurosurgery of Acre. INAO has a good level of professionals and has state-of-the-art equipment, such as the neuro-surgical navigator.
The female representation is prominent in Acre. “In the state, we only have three neurosurgeons who actually live here and work at INAO and of these three, two are women”, she says. Fortunately, she has never suffered prejudice for being a woman and loves what she does. “I believe that I do it by vocation and despite everything that medicine demands, I thank God every day for putting me on this path”, she says. When asked about a landmark story of her career, the doctor responds: “There is not one, there are several. I always get excited about thankful moms. But it is important to highlight that there are not only good memories, because sometimes we carry the burden of some failure or when we cannot help as we wish. It is impactful both ways”, she concludes.