A few weeks ago we noticed a trend on twitter.  There was a sudden proliferation of photos of women using the hashtag #ILookLikeASurgeon. The photos started images of women surgeons in the medical setting but evolved to show women, men and children living life outside of the hospital. There were photos of people relaxing and getting their nails done and photos of mentors and mentees having celebratory dinners.  The concept went viral and photos from all world popped up. These photos showed us we really didn’t know “what a surgeon looked like.”  As an EM doctor active on Twitter, I was impressed not only by the volume of posts, but more the diversity of the responses.  I needed find out more about the origins of this movement so I reached out to Dr. Marissa Boeck (@KickAsana), an originator of the hashtag. We chatted about the hashtag and other interesting topics.

We started off getting to know each other.  Dr. Boeck is currently a General Surgery resident at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. Last year, at the end of her 3rd year of residency, she began 2 research track in Chicago working with her mentor pursuing global health, emergency response, and will be working on trauma registries in Bolivia. Marissa herself is a believer in social media and the power of the modalities. In particular, she feels that Twitter can break down geographic and hierarchal barriers, allowing those with similar interests to connect.

What is the timeline of the hashtag?

In July 2015, a person posted #looklikeanengineer because this person had felt like she was being stereotyped. Dr. Logghe (@LoggheMD), one of the biggest proponents behind this movement, posted a comment on her blog (alliesforhealth.blogspot.com) based upon a NY Times article based on the #ThisIsWhatWeLookLike . She was so impressed that she called upon the Surgery community to respond in similar. Interestingly enough, Dr. Logghe herself deleted her original photo posting because she was concerned by her junior level of training and worried that she perhaps didn’t have the right to claim Surgeon, being only a resident. But (un)fortunately, someone else had already seen her photo, and it soon became viral.

This all started August 5th. And since then, there has been countless mainstream media coverage, and thousands of tweets using the hashtag #Ilooklikeasurgeon. Those who have participated now include men, women, seasoned surgeons, and aspiring surgeons. The tweets represent multiple cultures, multiple languages, ethnicities, sexual identities, all of which together combat the stereotype of the surgeon as the traditional Caucasian male.

What is the message behind ##ILookLikeASurgeon?

It represents and reflects the reality of the diversity in who our surgeons are and what they should be. The hashtag has power because of the underlying message that physical attributes should not dictate someone’s medical career, but rather your intellect and passion.

After a short while, the message behind the hashtag also itself began to evolve. Some began to use the hashtag to highlight challenges of careers in Surgery. One notable example was tweets about the challenge of being a single parent and balancing a surgical career with family needs. Another gay medical student use the tweet platform to discuss stereotypes and transgender issues in medical. Ultimately, this is not a political campaign, but really a way to reach out to people and make connections.

Who are the driving people behind ##ILookLikeASurgeon ?

At this time, the core team involves Dr. Logghe, Dr. Kathy Hughes and me . However, like many social media campaigns, there is no single person “running it”. This is a movement and energy consisting of people and it is a living thing expanding in ways dependent on the people.

Have there been any criticisms?

There was a surgeon in South Africa who stated that the campaign left her “cold”. Her reasoning behind such as strong feeling was that she didn’t think a “selfie” campaign would change anything. She felt that the real world problems that women in Surgery face deserved a professional response. Unfortunately after making her comments via social media, this surgeon did not reengage to continue the discussion.

Have there been any surprise outcomes?

A medical student in South Africa has responded to the original above criticism, and then began to enrage with the community via Twitter. She mentioned that this hashtag resonated with her because of her lack of mentors. After that, she was overwhelmed with the outpouring of other Surgery doctors volunteering to be her mentor in the path for her to become a Surgeon.

Another surprise after engaging with the broader international community was recognizing that we all face similar issues in surgery. These issues include being overworked and underappreciated. It’s amazing how different problems are the so similar across different cultures, regardless of the global and resource setting.

You mention that the hashtag has led to identifying issues and challenges to being a surgeon, what are some of them?

  1. Gloves not fitting
  2. Lack of women in leadership roles
  3. Lack of community for women surgeons

What is the future direction of this movement and community?

Find commonalities within the community and move forward to equality. Another goal would be to work towards solutions for work life integration. Ways to do this so far include developing the website (http://www.ilooklikeasurgeon.org), utilize email campaigns, and create a presence within national committees and conferences.

The goal is to go from community building, to objective development, and ultimately, equalization for all within Surgery and other specialties.

It may say #ILookLikeASurgeon – but the reason surgery took off because it is so notorious for having stereotypes. But now urologist, radiologist, pathologist, as well as dentists as well are engaging. This reflects the prevelance of stereotypes and barriers in all disciplines.

There is, of course concern for the amount of effort to keep this movement going on social media, which is notorious for having a short attention span. And we are not sure where the tipping point is for it to continue on its own inertia and momentum. Currently we  [Marissa, Heather, and Kathy] are away from clinical duty but others have also joined. So the core group will also mold and change as time progresses. Of course anyone who wants to be involved to stay involved are welcome.

The beauty is that it can keep evolving, ebbing and flowing, but we have already seen that there are people in the world who are concerned about this and it resonates with them and now it is on their radar.

Thank you to Dr. Marissa Boeck for taking time to speak with us at FemInEM!