Who is the surgeon?

I came across this puzzle the other day. I’d loved to give attribution, but simply cannot recall the source (yes, it’s becoming a more frequent problem!). But I do recall the essence of the puzzle and my response.

Here’s the puzzle:  “A man and his son are driving to watch a football game. They have a car accident. The father is killed instantly. His son survives but is in critical condition. He is rushed to the hospital and prepped for surgery. The surgeon enters the operating room, looks at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son.”  Who is the surgeon?

Before my brain begins step-by-step analysis, the very first picture that flashes through my head is a male surgeon. If you’ve been exposed to this before, you already know that, of course, it’s the boy’s mother. If you “fell” for it, at least initially, like I did, you might also be shocked at your reaction.

I’m shocked at that my first image is of a male surgeon. How could this be? As a girl growing up in the 60s and 70s, I remember my parents and teachers telling me that I could become anything and achieve anything I set my mind to. Over the 30+ years of my career, the workforce composition in my field saw an ever increasing number of women participating at all levels of the organization. In fact, the last two VPs of our 7K strong department before I retired, were women. So where is this image coming from?

A very simple explanation could be that have not yet seen enough evidence to dispel the generalization that most surgeons are male. In fact, the data still bears this out. Female surgeon numbers have indeed increased from ~10%, 20 years ago, but they are still only between 30-40% today, depending on the stats you read. My personal experience also bears this out. Any surgical procedure I’ve ever had performed was by a man. So maybe the initial response should not be that great a surprise.

As the mother with two late teens, often engaged in discussions about ‘what is possible’ for them in their future, it strikes me how important it is for them to truly see role models of the options we’re exploring. It’s simply not enough for their parents and teachers to tell them all these things are possible. Seeing is believing at a deeper level. And they need to see someone like them doing the things we are saying are possible. They need to see themselves represented.

It gave me a new appreciation for how essential these role models are for the upcoming generations. Seeing women, as well as men in new roles. Seeing a wide spectrum of races in new roles. Are we doing everything we can to help pave their way, or are we unconsciously limiting expansion by the deeply buried images such as the ‘male surgeon’?


About lynnmorstead

Writing about the small things that shape our lives
This entry was posted in education, Family, Life Coaching. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who is the surgeon?

  1. Rhonda says:

    Wall Street Journal had an interesting book review today on blindspots/bias! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323829504578272241035441214.html?KEYWORDS=bias

    • lynnmorstead says:

      Thanks for the book review on latent biases research. Based on this review I don’t think I’d run out and get the book. However, the experiment design he describes gives us food for thought.

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