February 3 marks the celebration of National Women Physicians Day. In honor of this occasion, Steward Health Care salutes our female physicians. Women Physicians Day was founded in 2016 in honor of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States, who was born on this day in 1849.
At Steward, our female physicians provide outstanding and compassionate care and comprise a significant part of our health care system. Nationally, women physicians make up approximately 38% of the medical field. As we observe this day, we look at the career of Susan Chabot, MD, an orthopedist in Massachusetts who began her medical career in 1992. According to Steward’s Human Resources teams, Dr. Chabot is the organization’s longest-serving full-time female medical doctor.
A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Dr. Chabot worked part-time at Burger King as a teenager, where she met her husband, who also worked there. She attended Boston University, working three jobs and using scholarship support to fund her studies there. Following a semester off, she returned to BU and crammed in the heavy-duty medical school prerequisite courses of chemistry, biology, physics, and biochemistry, and began applying to medical schools. She earned a spot at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston while her husband attended Brown University in R.I.
While completing her required clinical rotations, the pieces of her medical calling fell into place. “I did an orthopedic rotation and felt ‘This is where I belong,’” she said.
As a female orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Chabot represents the specialty with the fewest number of female physicians, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The AAMC’s Physician Specialty Data Report indicates that female physicians are represented at 5.9% in orthopedic surgery, 8.3% in thoracic surgery, and 9.6% in neurosurgery.
Dr. Chabot completed a two-year residency in general surgery at what is now Boston Medical Center, and a four-year orthopedic surgery residency at Tufts. She and her husband got married while she was still in college. The couple has four children – welcoming two while she completed her residency, and two more while she was in private practice. Her mother-in-law watched her grandchildren while Dr. Chabot balanced a demanding career with her role as a mother and wife, relishing days planned well in advance where she could chaperone school trips and serve as “room mother.”
“One year, I had four kids in four different schools, and a full-time practice,” she said. “But, if you’re highly organized, you can do those things.”
Surgical technology, such as the use of robotic surgical devices have advanced during her career and have become a staples of patient care. Diagnostic imaging, including MRIs and CT scans, have also progressed, allowing surgeons to be more precise in their work, and helping provide high-quality patient outcomes. Dr. Chabot estimates approximately 80% of her practice is office work, with surgery, treatments such as cortisone injections, and patient education comprising the rest.
One glance around Dr. Chabot’s office is telling of how important family is to her. Family photographs, including a homemade calendar, adorn the walls, including pictures and messages from her two grandchildren. On her right wrist she wears four friendship bracelets that she created with her granddaughter and daughter for their night at a Taylor Swift concert in Foxboro last year. A photograph of the group, all wearing white-rimmed heart-shaped glasses, captures that indelible moment.
When she graduated from medical school, Dr. Chabot said her class of 160 physicians was about one-third female. Today, medical school graduating classes are about 50/50 gender-wise. She belongs to a “Physicians Mothers’ Group” on Facebook that has about 70,000 members world-wide, and a second one that is made up of women orthopedists and enjoys the kinship she has discovered there.
“We don’t have a tribe. We don’t fit in with the neighborhood mothers,” she said.
Still, reflecting on her career, she would not trade it.
“I feel like this is still a great job,” Dr. Chabot said. “I love what I do. It’s very rewarding. You help people every day of your life. How can you not like that?”
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