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Two Residents Named “Torchbearers” Lighting the Way for Women in Medicine

Oct. 5, 2023
WIMS Awardees

Congratulations to year-5 residents Drs. Bryn Nisbet-Berens, MD, and Michelle Son, MD! Both were recently honored as women who “light the way” for others in the inaugural Torchbearer awards from University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson.

Presented by Women in Medicine and Science, the awards celebrate the achievements of women and highlight their instrumental role in shaping the future of healthcare and creating a better medical landscape. 

The awards are one way that WIMS is working to bring about “a brighter, more diverse future for healthcare.” Asked about a change she’d like to see in the field, Dr. Son shared a personal experience.  

“Recently I have had several surprised patients, both men and women, tell me, ‘It’s nice to see a woman in orthopedic surgery’. Admittedly, it seems that more women mention it, but I think this is because it facilitates a comfortable environment by automatically having something in common or relatable. For some patients, that may be what they need to get the best health care. Many surgical specialties have a lack of women – orthopedic surgery in particular – but women in these fields are increasing over time. During my career, I would love to see it become so common to have women surgeons that patients would no longer even think to mention it.”

As Dr. Son notes, women are still largely underrepresented among U.S. physicians and surgeons. A 2020 study by the Association of American Medical Colleges indicated that women make up roughly 36% of physicians, though just over half the overall population. Among orthopedic surgeons, the difference is far more stark, with women making up less than 6% of the field.

Research has found that role models are especially important for changing stereotypes about gender and professions, especially when it comes to women and STEM fields (one of the goals of the Torchbearer awards). Mentorship is also important, and on that point, study findings are more nuanced. Many women benefit from having other women as mentors, but research suggests that it’s the quality of the relationship, regardless of gender, that’s most important. 

For young women interested in a career in medicine or science, Dr. Nisbet-Berens offered this:

“In my opinion, mentorship paves the way for a career as a physician. Finding reliable mentors in medical students/residents ahead of me, or attendings whom I admire, has been exceedingly helpful to achieve my goals. I have had many invaluable female role models; however, I would strongly encourage everyone to look for mentors that are different from oneself, as well. I have had many strong male mentors whom I have found to be just as valuable and impactful as the female ones.”

You can view all of the inaugural WIMS Torchbearer honorees on the college’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion website.