The Pioneers of Women in Urology

The Pioneers of Women in Urology

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About the author

Jana Barrett is a freelance writer specializing in health, wellness and lifestyle content.

About the Author

Jana Barrett is a freelance writer specializing in health, wellness and lifestyle content.

Women’s healthcare has drastically improved over the years. Although there’s a lot of work to be done, we’re reflecting on how women are slowly but surely changing the field of urology. Some people prefer a female doctor, others a male doctor, and some are indifferent. The important thing is that people have the options when it comes to health decisions.

When you look at transitions in women’s health, the field of obstetrics and gynecology has come a long way. “In the 1970s, your ob-gyn was almost certainly a man (98% were), and while male doctors can be wonderful, the whole attitude tended to be very paternal,” writes WebMD. Compare that to today, when female Ob/Gyns are the majority. In fact, this year, the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology noted that 82% percent of those going into Ob/Gyn were women.

But about women in urology? A 2016 study shows that women who need to see the urologist prefer female providers, but there aren’t enough of them to meet the demand. The common misconception is that a gynecologist is to a vagina as a urologist is to a penis, and that urology mostly covers issues related to the penis: prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction, vasectomies, reproductive concerns, or urinary tract complications.

But “It’s not all male genitalia!” as Dr. Leslie Rickey, a practicing urologist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, told NPR. "It's the kidneys and the urinary tract. And as you may or may not be aware, there are a lot of women leaking urine out there."

People with vaginas need to see urologists too, and it really helps if that urologist is a woman. Female urologists are nothing new, so it’s important to give credit to the ones who have paved the way. So, who were these badass women who gave the middle finger to patriarchal standards in the name of women’s health? Allow us to explain...

Who were the first female urologists?

Picture this: It’s the late 1800’s. The industrial revolution has propelled women into the working force. Women want to pursue careers in medicine and healing, however, powerful men in top hats and tailcoats say things like “for their own sake, it was not desirable that they should pursue some of the studies necessary such as anatomy."

That was just the beginning for women in med school. Male medical students were assigned a dissecting laboratory separate from the female students. Women were not allowed to dissect male genitalia. Instead, they were given a castrated papier-mache model which could not lead them sexually astray. They were only looking out for us! Right...?

But there were pioneers who led the way to women entering and excelling in urology. Here are some of the stars.

Ann E. Brumall

  • In 1879 Dr. Brumall devised a type of lithotrite (early medical tool that crushed bladder stones). Her invention was attached to a dental drill that bore into the bladder stone and then was removed through the vagina.
  • Although she would have made an excellent urologist, society dictated that she attend to women’s issues so she became a gynecologist in Philadelphia.

Mary E . Childs MacGregor

  • Trained in urology at the New York Infirmary in 1928.
  • Chief of urology at the New York Infirmary among other important positions.
  • She also founded fellowships for women in the field of urology.

Rosemary Shoemaker

  • Went to University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1933, where a new science building was donated to the medical school on the condition that there were at least 4 female students in the freshman medical class. Equality!
  • Received an M.S. in urology in 1938.
  • Completed a four-year urology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in 1938.
  • Unfortunately, during her four years at the Mayo Clinic she spent a good amount of time in pathology because pregnant women were not allowed on the urology service (she gave birth to two daughters during her fellowship).

Victoire Lespinasse

  • Trained by Charles Huggins in 1942 at the University of Chicago Founding member of the Pan American Medical Women's Alliance Her research included how laminaria (type of seaweed) could be used to dilate stone-obstructed ureters.
  • Her last name means “less penis” and we’re here for it.

Elisabeth Pauline Pickett

  • First female board certified urologist in 1962
  • Due to a shortage of physicians during WWII, she had to attend medical school straight through the summers and graduate in three years.
  • During her residency at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn from 1944-46, she worked 72-hour shifts.
  • Some places where she trained had to build makeshift women’s bathrooms for new female doctors, as there weren’t any before!
  • Dr. Pickett held academic positions at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, New York Hospital, Instructor in Urological Surgery at Cornell University Medical School, New York Infirmary, and as a Research Fellow at Sloan Kettering Institute.
  • Trained Afghan physicians and patients during a several-month stint in Afghanistan in the 1970s.

The timeline of transformation

1980: Society of Women in Urology informally begins at the American Urology Association meeting when “five female urologists met for breakfast to discuss their experiences and frustrations.”

1985: This report by the Urology department at the University of California Irvine states that there are just 22 women in the field in the US.

1992: The Society of Women in Urology establishes an executive board and bylaws.

2008: The Society of Women in Urology has more than 300 members, and an estimated 20% of urologists in training are now women.

2015: Urology has the biggest gender disparity of any medical field, at just 8% of women. However, of the people training to be urologists, 25% are women.

2018: The State of the Urology Workforce and Practice in the United States reports that approximately 78% and 63% of practicing urologists reported their practices made efforts to hire women and underrepresented minorities, respectively.

2019: 25% of urology trainees are women.

The American Urological Association published that while the urologic workforce in the United States is predominantly male, the percentage of female urologists is on the rise. Furthermore, the 2019 Urology Residency Match results show a record-high of 83% of women applying have matched to urology residency positions. Let’s hope they’ll be practicing on actual humans instead of castrated paper-mache dummies!

2020: The American Urological Association published its 2019 census and reported out of the total 13,044 practicing urologists in the United States, the number of female urologists grew to 1,286 or 9.9% of the total workforce. This is an increase from 2015 with just 7.7% of urologists being female. A higher proportion of female urologists were seen in younger age groups as a result of the increase in urology trainees. With this trend, we can only expect the percentage of female urologists to rise and start to balance the scales!

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