Female surgeons make up more than half of Hennepin Healthcare’s orthopedic team

by Hennepin Healthcare

A quintessential component to a nationally recognized, academic, Level I Trauma Center is a highly skilled, dynamic, cohesive orthopedic department to care for fractures, dislocations, tears, and sprains. This is what Hennepin Healthcare has – but our orthopedic department is unusual in one respect: five out of nine of our orthopedic surgeons are women. Around the world, women only make up 5 percent of the practicing orthopedic surgeons – which makes our orthopedic team world-class and unique!

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“I tore my ACL in high school and my interaction with my surgeon inspired me to pursue orthopaedics. Hennepin Healthcare is such a great place to work because of the patients we see and the support of the Orthopedic Department. I am lucky to work with amazing surgeons and amazing people.” – Dr. Emily Wagstrom

“And currently women make up only 14.2 percent of orthopedic surgery residents,” explains Dr. Gudrun Mirick Mueller, one of the orthopedic surgeons at Hennepin Healthcare. “Depending on which year’s data you look at, it’s either orthopedics or neurosurgery who has the lowest number of female surgeons.”

Dr. Mirick Mueller practices with her colleagues Dr. Jacqueline Geissler, Dr. Nancy Luger, Dr. Emily Wagstrom and Dr. Jessica Downes in the fast-paced orthopedics department at Hennepin Healthcare, where they treat everything from ankle fractures to shoulder replacements.

At a very early age, her own foot surgery prompted Dr. Nancy Luger to consider medicine instead of a career in law. “You take an x-ray, operate and fix a problem and there you go — back to normal,” she said. “As a physician you can teach, work with diverse populations, help people… yes – I’ll do that. Looking further into ortho, it became clear that I wanted to focus on returning patients function vs. lifesaving operations. You see results and can really make a huge difference in people’s lives.”

There are several reasons why orthopedics has historically not been a top choice for women. They include concerns about work/life balance and the perception that strength is needed to perform surgical procedures.

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“I have had many mentors both female and male who taught me fitness and control are more important than brute strength.  Its all about working smarter not harder, using physics, leverage, finesse and control.” – Dr. Jessica Downes

“Sometimes strength or size are perceived to be problems for women in the orthopedics field, but the reality is that finesse is really most effective,” continues Dr. Geissler, who grew up on a farm where she became accustomed to long hours, physical labor and working with tools. But with regard to surgical tools Dr. Geissler admits, “We are still trying to find a company willing to make appropriately sized equipment for those of us with smaller hands – for the more petite men, too!”

According to researchers, having strong mentors in medical school is also a significant factor for women considering a career in orthopedic surgery.

“Having role models is so important,” said Dr. Jackie Geissler. “I’ve been lucky to have several, and I’m very grateful. I was fortunate enough to meet some inspiring lady orthopedic residents early in my training, and staff who were eager to train them.”

Having a gender balance of orthopedic surgeons also makes Hennepin Healthcare more closely aligned with the general population, and female surgeons have a unique perspective of the care needs of their female patients. For example, a busy mom considering shoulder surgery may feel more comfortable sharing concerns and challenges with another woman.

A wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances brought these five women to Hennepin Healthcare – and a common bond unites them: a love for their careers, the people they work with, their patients, and their purpose.

“We are proud of the work we do, our good patient outcomes, and high satisfaction scores,” shares Dr. Mirick Mueller. “We also very much respect our male colleagues who encouraged our hiring, have mentored us in our early careers, and continue to be amazing partners. We are very lucky to have such a supportive and cohesive team. This is an exceptional situation in our world and we are very grateful for our opportunity here.”

For more information about orthopedic care at Hennepin Healthcare go to www.hennepinhealthcare.org/orthopedics.