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Keeping the Lessons Close

By Amber R. Leis, MD, FACS

I credit my career as a hand surgeon to two women: Dr. Frances Sharpe and Dr. Sharon Kalina. I rotated with them during my third year of residency, and they were among my earliest exposures to the specialty. Dr. Kalina was an extremely thorough teacher, regularly pulling me into her office for hybrid pimp and teaching sessions. The type A in me delighted in the challenge of learning enough about hand surgery that she couldn’t find a topic for which I would be unable to answer questions. She actually paid for my fluoroscopy license so that I could have more autonomy during my training! Dr. Sharpe was the person who encouraged and supported me to pursue hand surgery: facilitating my travel to attend meetings and involving me in her research projects, ultimately helping me get into the fellowship of my dreams. 

I have been extremely lucky to have colleagues who are also young women in academic hand surgery, including Dr. Paige Fox at Stanford and Dr. Helen Hui-Chou at University of Miami. They have been an immensely important source of support during the beginning of my career. We always get to catch up at the hand meetings, where we are affectionately referred to as unicorns: those that haven’t been lost to the leaky pipeline of women in academic surgery.

I am a now a Plastic surgery residency program director, and heavily involved with an Orthopaedic hand fellowship. My two early role models were in ‘opposing’ departments as well, but worked closely with one another: my earliest understanding of hand surgery was that it was the essential overlap between these two specialties. As I work with young female trainees I try to keep the lessons I learned from Drs. Sharpe and Kalina close. Be generous and kind, be excellent, be a team player, and above all, know the anatomy. 

Amber R. Leis, MD, FACS
Assistant Clinical Professor
Director of Hand Surgery
Plastic Surgery Residency Program Director
University of California – Irvine

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