WOW | Coffee Break

the power of female surgeons & the challenges of having it all

Surgery is predominantly considered a male career choice. However this trend, as with every other field, is changing gradually. In this edition of coffee break, we bring you four women surgeons who not only are breaking career barriers but are also accomplishing great heights of success in both professional and personal life with sheer hard work and determination. They are smart, efficient, accomplished, enjoy life to the fullest and are great role models as parents, doctors, and women of substance.

Dr. Tseten Yonjen Tamang
35, Aries, Married with 18-month-old daughter
Education/ Area of Specialisation: MBBS, MS (General Surgery), Fellow Hepatobiliary surgery and liver transplantation
Husband’s profession: Anesthesiologist

Being a daughter, sister, wife, daughter in law and mother is as important and fulfilling for Tseten Yonjen Tamang as it is to be a skilled surgeon who is known to perform complex surgical procedures. Dr. Tseten is determined to live a life that is meaningful and giving. She is unafraid of challenges and ensures that she meets every aspect of her life’s roles with love, compassion and responsibility.

What inspired you to become a doctor and choose your area of specialisation?

Medicine used to be an obvious choice for those with good grades. Besides, it’s associated with guts, glory and glamour that has lured generations. Fortunately for me, a super supportive family who willingly accepted my dreams as theirs and with me every step of the way.

While at MBBS classes and as an intern at Bir Hospital, I realised that I had a greater inclination towards surgery. I discovered that decisions made were a precise articulated form of practice concerning patient care, often penetrating and tackling the root cause… there was so much creativity required. I tested my passion at Kathmandu Model Hospital where I worked as a Medical Officer in surgery. Then I knew for sure, surgery was meant for me and I was meant to be a surgeon.

What is it like to work in Nepal?

Nepal is unique in the medical field too. It is absolutely challenging. Ours is a country where all medical students study theory of international standards but curtail treatment procedures to adjust to the outdated thoughts of seniors to meet the limited financial needs of patients and often ponder about why patients seek medical help outside the country? Government hospitals treat doctors as though they are social volunteers who should work day and night for mere benefit and be paid in pennies, thus encouraging private practice. Of course, there is also the usual lack of professionalism, invasion of politics, power struggle with decisive power limited to few individuals instead of an organisation and lack of adequate teamwork. Young experts in a sophisticated field of medicine are yet to find their place and be heard. Super specialisation and multidisciplinary team management is a rarity. Lack of medical registry which requires all medical personnel and patients to register their disease, treatment and outcome (short and long term) do not allow nor practice the ‘check and balance’ of the medical fraternity. It is sad that the easily accessible neighbouring countries are seen as a better option for better treatment solutions for many patients. Patients are willing to spend money abroad but they bargain in their own country. Unfortunately, medical services are expensive. And most often than not, doctors have to curtail and compromise the treatment to find financial balance. Despite all this, a ray of hope still remains. The number of specialists and super specialists are increasing day by day, centers which offer all medical services along with state of the art investigatory support under one roof is showing up and fortunately, the public is becoming more aware while governmental insurance policy and reduced cost in many services may come handy.

Do you feel women doctors have to work extra hard to establish their credibility?

I would think so. Below are few examples why?

While at a medical college, if you happen to score really well (only because you really worked hard) others tend to think it is because you are female and therefore preferred by the male seniors.

I am a doctor. This is something I have to prove to people every day. It is somewhat like an identity crisis. A man with an apron is a doctor and any woman with an apron is a nurse.

Men can cry about silly problems (and they really do that, they just like to believe they don’t). But when women do that, they are easily labeled as super complainers because you are female and females complain too much.
Although, society has become more liberal and open to the idea of girls studying, having a profession and become working moms, but the same duties for women still linger and are enforced. Chores, shopping, raising children are still the call of the day but implied to women alone. I guess, women ALONE have advanced by leaps and bounds.

Most surgeons are men. However, surgery has nothing to do with gender…. nothing is for that matter! Yet, young female doctors are discouraged from becoming surgeons. As if there were any less struggle in any other field with questions such as, “What about family?” (As though male surgeons are excluded from their responsibilities of their family). Another dogma is that patients prefer to consult a junior male surgeon, with the belief that a junior inexperienced male surgeon is better than a senior female surgeon. It reminds me of what my grandmother would say: a woman needs to know everything and be best at it.

What do you do to establish better patient-doctor relationship?

Listening, talking, counseling. This is what I generally do. Also, I request all concerned in the decision making to come in the first few counseling. I don’t usually entertain anyone who appears later on. This allows me to have a rapport with the patient and the concerned individuals. And I know that we are on the same page of understanding.

How do you define success?

Success to me is satisfaction. It is not merely a job that you have to finish. A job requires to be well done to satisfy your core. It may be an unfinished job but one that is worth doing and for the right reasons. Success also means happiness.

How do maintain a work-life balance?

My family is my source of limitless energy, truthful constructive suggestions, and unparalleled support. Spending time with them re-energises me. It gives me an insight to myself, keeps me level headed and grounded. Despite being an elder sister to a younger sister who runs the popular Amantran Spa and Salon, I don’t pamper myself with massage, pedicure and manicure (of course, my sister thinks that’s weird, but I’d rather talk to her than keep mum with a mask on). And, no matter how tired I feel at the end of the week, I know for sure that the amount of work that I did the previous week is one-third the amount of work my parents must have done for me, that too with no complaints.

Work-life balance will always be challenging. With both work and life evolving on a daily basis, newer challenges arise to be tackled in new ways. However, the support of my family has always helped me. I believe being the daughter of a working mom has helped me a lot. If it isn’t my direct memory of how my mother dealt with things, then it is just a matter of seeking suggestions from her.

What do you do for fun?

Spend time with family.

Something you would like to see changed in the medical field in Nepal?

  • Establishment of a medical registry
  • Professional organisation (properly represented and elected with no political inclination)
  • Well paid medical staff that will not have to think about making money while treating patients.