Dr Kate Stannage

I recently won the Excellence in Women’s Leadership Award. Why am I telling you this? It’s certainly not for self-promotion or the need for acclaim. No, I am telling you this because it is an example of how far surgery has come, and how far we still have to go in recognition of gender equality and meritocracy.

My first reaction when I was informed about the award was, ‘Why me? What have I done that’s so special?’ I looked at the award winners in other states, household names such as Magda Szubanski, Gillian Triggs and Nova Peris. I felt somewhat inadequate and a bit embarrassed. But then I spoke to my colleagues, friends and family and realised that as a female orthopaedic surgeon, achieving leadership roles and parity with male surgeons is actually fairly noteworthy.

So, I guess a few facts about orthopaedic surgery need to be stated. In Australia about 3% of the consultant orthopaedic workforce is female. This is significantly less than the often-reported standard of Chairs of ASX-listed companies, which currently stands at 6%.

In WA there are only three female orthopaedic surgeons! Three extraordinary orthopaedic surgeons!

Two of us are Heads of Orthopaedic Departments, two have sat on the Australian Orthopaedic Association (WA) Executive Board and two of us currently sit on the Regional Training Committee for the AOA training scheme.

Orthopaedic surgery obviously remains a challenge in the current climate of increasing diversity in the workforce. The challenges are real; the workload is demanding; the on-call commitment as a training registrar is gruelling.

Having children while training remains difficult although, for all aspiring trainees out there who might be reading this, I had two children while training and survived! Some other states have accommodated part-time training, but this isn’t happening in WA.

There’s a lot of work being done within the AOA focusing on diversity in surgery. There are new regulations regarding appropriateness of material presented at scientific meetings. A diversity strategy plan is about to be launched and there’s an active Orthopaedic Women’s Link that promotes and supports women in orthopaedic surgery.

So, why did I get this award? I’m Head of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at PCH. I’m the first female sub-specialty President of an orthopaedic society (Australian Paediatric Orthopaedic Society). I also sit on the board of Australian Doctors for Africa and coordinate the Club-Foot programs in Madagascar and Somaliland. I advise the not-for-profit organisation Healthy Hips Australia and teach the Pacific Island Orthopaedic Association trainees. A lot of these are ‘firsts’ for women in orthopaedics, so I guess I was deemed to be a worthy recipient.

My hope is that one day there will be lots of women in orthopaedics. Unfortunately, I don’t have the magic key to unlock diversity in this particular field. However, I do know that in surgery more broadly, ‘diversity’ is no longer a dirty word.

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