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Women in Surgery

A Conversation on the Benefits of Diversity in the Surgical Field

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Diana L. Farmer, M.D.

Fetal and Neonatal Surgeon, and Chair, UC Davis Department of Surgery

What inspired you to want to become a surgeon? And why did you decide to go into pediatric surgery as your specialty?

My grandfather was a surgeon in Nebraska; I have his medical diploma from 1916 from the (now defunct) National University of St. Louis hanging in my office. So I’m sure there was probably some influence there. That said, every year I give a talk to the National Youth Leadership Forum, and I tell them that one of the keys to success is pushy parents — my parents made me think there was nothing I couldn’t do. And I believed them.

I was absolutely fascinated with embryology and the developmental anatomy of birth defects, which led me to become interested in fetal and neonatal surgery. When I speak with people and we discuss performing surgery with fetuses still in the womb, I tell them “you don’t just save a life, you save a lifetime.”  

What does holding the role of the chair of the Department of Surgery at University of California (UC), Davis mean to you?

For me, it was an opportunity to take an educationally exceptional department and transform it into a multidisciplinary and multispecialty, high-tech, complex surgical department. 

Do you believe it’s vital and valuable to bring more women into leadership positions? 

Absolutely. All organizations thrive and succeed to higher levels when they have a diversity of thought, whether that is gender, race, culture, or other backgrounds. It’s important to have women at all levels of leadership roles in the institution.

What is your perspective on mentorship for female students, professors, doctors, etcetera? Do you believe it’s beneficial?

Mentorship is important for all learners and trainees, and certainly all young physicians. The value of having diverse faculty is that we are then available to mentor diverse students, and match particular skill sets and interests with those of the learners.

Do you believe diversity and inclusion is important for innovating the academic and professional spaces of medicine?

As I mentioned, all organizations thrive and succeed to higher levels when they have a diversity of thought.

Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to offer to prospective women surgeons?

I advise all young people to follow their passions and be persistent. Don’t let gender or any other perceived difference limit your curiosity or ambition.

Staff, [email protected]

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