A generation after the modern invention of minimally invasive surgery, one of its inventors, Dr. Liselotte Mettler, tells what building a medical career was like for women when she started practice – and her memoir is co-authored with her husband’s point of view on marriage and family.
The dual-memoir, Lovers to Spouses, focuses on the human side of building a career, balancing it with family and personal relationships, and dealing with its challenges, including sexism in the work place – because, according to the NIH and The Association of American Medical Colleges, the field of surgery is still largely male dominated.
“Even today, women are up against significant challenges,” says author Dr. Liselotte Mettler, professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel. “And I want women to know that I have an enormous sense of accomplishment having gone through the challenges I describe in the book. Success requires knowledge in many areas, including how to stay strong through adversity.”
Dr. Mettler credits her start in the field to Dr. Kurt Semm, who she says is known as “the father of modern laparoscopy.” Although she admired his skill and determination, he was woefully skeptical of female skill and talent. Instead, his fascination with her intrepid spirit led him to give her a try, and she proved to be the leader and professional partner he always needed. “It is a lesson in the modern history of working in scientific fields like medicine,” says Dr. Mona Orady, director of robotic surgery at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, formerly Johns Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic.
Their story also takes the reader through the jungles of Peru, where Dr. Mettler practiced, through the 1960 Olympics, where she came close to winning a bronze medal in swimming, and through her intense relationship with her husband and co-author, international finance expert Elwin Wallace Law. Their perspectives on success, relationships, and world events run throughout the story, including dealing with difficult supervisors.
Today, nearly a third of all practicing physicians are women, and they account for more than 60% of pediatricians and more than 51% of obstetricians/gynecologists, according to an Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) analysis. The report adds that while the number of women physicians is rising, women make up only a little more than a third of full-time academic medicine faculty.