Graduated at the University of São Paulo (USP), in the 1970s, the 5 ft. tall and weighing only 77 lb., Dr. Cleyde Cley was the first woman to attend residency in neurosurgery at the Medical College Hospital [Hospital das Clínicas – HC] in São Paulo. The doctor had a special lab coat because of her physique and never had any type of privilege due to her gender. She did face some discredit, but she does not see it as prejudice. “By opting for neurosurgery, I had the right to do medical residency at HC for studying at USP and it was natural that some colleagues thought I would not finish the specialization. I always felt challenged, but I never stopped doing anything that was assigned to me”, she says. She believes that distrust came not just because she was a woman, but because of her physique, since neurosurgery at that time required a lot of strength and resilience.
“To open a skull, for example, it required a manual trepanation and then use the Gigli hand saw. In addition to all this strength in surgeries, it was required firm hands and standing for hours”, she recalls. Dr. Cleyde did everything with great dedication and dexterity, and in any moment, she felt affected by being a woman. “I have always been well accepted and respected as a professional by colleagues and especially by patients”, she says. She had no inspiration to pursue the profession, her parents were not physicians, and she is sure that she was born with the vocation to medicine. “Since I was a little girl, I loved playing hospital, taking care of other people”, she says. When she finished her medical residency, she worked in a private hospital and there she had the opportunity to lead surgeries. At that time, she attended many emergencies and felt the rare benefits of being a woman in the field. “Both male and female patients liked to be seen by a female neurosurgeon. They felt secure”, she says. She was also head of the service in some private hospitals and, for 28 years, dedicated to the Municipal Hospital of Tatuapé – in São Paulo, being the only woman at the time. In 1974, Dr. Cleyde, with two other female colleagues from Rio de Janeiro, was once again part of the Brazilian neurosurgery history. They were the first women approved in the country to obtain the title of Specialist by the AMB – Brazilian Medical Society. And in 1978, Dr. Cleyde was the first woman accepted as a member of the BSN [Brazilian Neurosurgery Society], being the only one for some years. “I see this episode not only as a recognition of my work and dedication, but also as a great responsibility. For years I have represented all the women who aim neurosurgery as a career and I believe I have been an example for all of them”, she says. At age 77, the doctor stopped operating and only does clinical care in private hospitals. “I really miss the operating rooms; sometimes I even dream I’m operating. But I had to stop not only for the physical strength that the area demands, but also for the willingness to service cases on weekends and dawns”, she says. Besides medical care, she also devotes herself to her second passion – art. She has painted dozens of paintings and, as a plastic artist, she has participated in several exhibitions in art galleries and exhibit rooms, receiving some awards. She is currently divorced and has chosen not to have children. “I dedicated my life to neurosurgery and I do not regret anything I did. I am proud of what I did and left as a legacy”, she says. For the neurosurgeon, determination and courage are the secrets to building a solid career in neurosurgery. “The important thing is to know that there will be challenges and that you will be able to overcome them. It’s all worth it”, she says.
“I’m not the daughter of physicians, but since I was a little girl, I loved to play hospital, to take care of others. I was born with the vocation to medicine.”