By: Alexandra Brown, MS-3.
Alexandra Brown is a 3rd year podiatric medical student at Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine. She is currently a Senior Editor of Hallux Magazine. She is the 2nd place recipient of the Annual Women’s Month Scholarship.
Special thanks to Dr. Michelle Butterworth for her contributions to this article.
Women in medicine have made incredible strides towards achieving parity with our male counterparts, but there is a great deal of work yet to be done. A recent study revealed the underrepresentation of female podiatric surgeons in leadership roles, research, academia, and board certifications, suggesting this representation is not keeping pace with the increasing percentage of female podiatrists in the field.1 This study is an important read for all podiatrists, and I was inspired to learn more about the authors. I recognized Dr. Michelle Butterworth’s name as she had been one of the first guest lecturers for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) student chapter at Temple during my first year of studies. Dr. Butterworth’s presentation was memorable not only for the presentation itself, but also her charisma, confidence, and leadership. She made it look easy to “have it all,” and I wanted to see how her journey compared to my own.
A recent study revealed the underrepresentation of female podiatric surgeons in leadership roles, research, academia, and board certifications, suggesting this representation is not keeping pace with the increasing percentage of female podiatrists in the field.
An active scholarship athlete in college, Michelle Butterworth developed a love for orthopedics and was inspired to pursue podiatry after working with the team’s podiatrist. “I loved the variety of cases, surgeries, patient demographics, and specialties. Through this experience, I realized podiatry was orthopedics, specifically of the foot and ankle.”
Dr. Butterworth has been an advocate for podiatry from the very beginning. While studying at the Philadelphia College of Podiatric Medicine (now known as TUSPM), she served as a live-in nanny for an ophthalmologist and his family. Through her studies and patience with the ophthalmologist, she was able to change his initial perspective of, “podiatrists are not real doctors”, to completely change his outlook and gain his respect for podiatry.
In addition to working as a nanny, Dr. Butterworth held leadership roles during medical school, including serving as Student Government President. She has always been passionate about advocacy, politics, and research, saying, “I always liked to be involved, pushing forward and helping our profession advance. I was very fortunate in residency to have some great instructors that were heavily involved in our profession, which helped me get involved in teaching, lecturing, and research.”
“I loved the variety of cases, surgeries, patient demographics, and specialties. Through this experience, I realized podiatry was orthopedics, specifically of the foot and ankle.”
In the following years, Dr. Butterworth has accumulated many incredible accomplishments, and here is a highlight of some of her leadership roles: she is the current Chairman of the Podiatry Institute, an author and editor of the upcoming McGlamry book, and serves on the Board of Directors for the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery. She was the second female podiatrist to serve as President of the ACFAS, after her friend and mentor, Dr. Mary E. Crawford, served in the role from 2009-2010.
Reflecting back on her journey, Dr. Butterworth says she focused on, “gaining respect as a physician, and secondly as a female physician. We should all be treated the same. I never wanted to be treated differently for being a woman, but I certainly felt like I had to work a little harder. No one in particular made me feel that way, just me personally. I made a point to be able to do the physically demanding tasks just as well as my male colleagues. I felt like I had something to prove.”
The landscape of podiatry has changed for the better, with women accounting for 1% of podiatrists in 1969 and increasing to 39% in 2015. Though aware of the difference in representation and an increased pressure to prove herself, Dr. Butterworth did not allow restrictive and outdated gender norms hold her back. Instead, she used this to motivate herself, get involved, and have a significant impact on the field of podiatry. She is a mentor for women in the field, she helps organize and facilitate an annual women’s meeting through the Podiatry Institute. This seminar not only includes top notch academics on a variety of foot and ankle entities, but also panels and roundtable discussions on various topics such as work-life balance. The annual meeting is open to both men and women, but the faculty is exclusively female to help facilitate a more comfortable learning environment and provide an emphasis on issues more specific to women. “It is great for networking, and it’s an opportunity to talk about the challenges we face. We are unique, and we need to appreciate the differences and support each other.”
The annual meeting is open to both men and women, but the faculty is exclusively female to help facilitate a more comfortable learning environment and provide an emphasis on issues more specific to women.
While reviewing my notes from interviewing Dr. Butterworth, I was struck by the difference in perspective that she had when starting her journey. She was driven to achieve and, consciously or not, fought against the stigmas that discourage women from pursuing surgical fields. While Dr. Butterworth was trailblazing in podiatry and serving as President of the ACFAS in 2013, I was in my junior year of college and uncertain about my future career options.
“Despite our progress and advancements, women are still expected to be the primary caregiver.” Dr. Butterworth shared this statement, and it resonated deeply with me. Just like Dr. Butterworth, I always knew I wanted to go pursue medicine. But I also wanted to have a family. Every surgeon (mostly males) that I shadowed during my undergraduate studies made comments along the lines of, “Surgery is not a good specialty for women,” and “you have to choose: is a surgery specialty worth not having children?” They were not malicious; I’m certain they believed it was helpful advice to share with prospective medical students.
Just like Dr. Butterworth, I always knew I wanted to go pursue medicine. But I also wanted to have a family.
I allowed myself to internalize this stigma, and it discouraged my pursuit of a career in medicine. When hearing these things from people I admired, I thought to myself, “Of course I don’t want to sacrifice the option of having a family in the future!” This fear changed my path and nearly derailed my journey to medicine altogether.
For a couple of years after college, I worked as a healthcare consultant, working in hospitals but never directly with patients. With time, I realized I would only be fulfilled by directly helping patients each and every day. The external factors and biases that continue to plague women had successfully (and fortunately only temporarily) deterred me from pursuing medical school. Upon realizing that I was holding myself back just because people said it would be impossible to, “have it all,” I switched gears and applied for graduate school.
I am now a third-year medical student, and working towards my dream of becoming a surgeon. I am fully devoted to this journey and am fully committed to improving the landscape for women in medicine. Mirroring Dr. Butterworth, I serve in leadership roles in my school, engage in several research projects and publications, and advocate for podiatry through my involvement with Hallux Magazine. My goal is that no other woman feels like they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” pursue medicine because of fear, discrimination, judgment, or harassment.
Mirroring Dr. Butterworth, I serve in leadership roles in my school, engage in several research projects and publications, and advocate for podiatry through my involvement with Hallux Magazine.
Perspective is key when approaching perceived obstacles or hurdles. The options are to either internalize these pressures and feel limited, or be inspired to overcome such challenges. Do not let false preconceived notions from others distract or discourage you from your purpose and goals. I am fortunate that it only took me a few years to gain this perspective, and Dr. Butterworth had this outlook from the very beginning. “I wasn’t consciously aware that I would have an impact on future female physicians. When I was on track to become the ACFAS President, I realized that women in the field may be looking up to me. I wanted to set a good example and do the right thing, so there was a bit of pressure in that sense.” Although our paths to podiatric medicine looked slightly different, I hope to follow Dr. Butterworth’s example: take on leadership roles, engage in research and academic opportunities, and advance the field of podiatry for both women and men.
“Be true to who you are and what you do, and things will fall into place” – Dr. Butterworth
By Alexandra Brown, MS–3
School: Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine
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