Julie Ann Sosa, M.A., M.D., knows the value of finding a mentor. In fact, though she’d planned to go to medical school, meeting a mentor when she was a senior at Princeton almost landed her in a career as an economist.
It happened when she was editor-in-chief at the Daily Princetonian. Student reporters heard some earthshaking news: Princeton’s president, economist William G. Bowen, was about to resign. The student paper broke the story, beating The New York Times. Annoyed by the premature announcement, Bowen summoned Sosa to his office to scold her—and then surprised her by offering her a summer job. Together, they wrote an award-winning book about the labor economics of academia. Sosa went on to study economics as part of a master’s program at Oxford.
Despite having ultimately chosen medicine, she has carried with her the lesson that a mentor can enrich a person’s life.
Mentorship is part of the reason Sosa, 37, came to Yale—to follow the department’s chair, Robert Udelsman, M.D., M.B.A., north from Johns Hopkins after completing her training there in 2002. And as an assistant professor of surgery, she serves as a potential mentor to others, from Yale undergraduates she meets as a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College to surgical residents beginning their careers.
When she finished eight years of residency training at Hopkins, Sosa was only the seventh woman to complete the full general surgery residency program there. She never felt any discrimination and jokes that “everyone was uniformly punished for wanting to be a surgeon” by the grueling call schedule.
At Yale, three of the five surgeons in her section, oncologic and endocrine surgery, are women. And she says the collegiality of Yale physicians, male and female, helps her do research, since “you can’t do good research in isolation. You need collaborators.” As a core faculty member for the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, Sosa is working with several colleagues to evaluate the quality of the research reported in peer-reviewed medical and surgical journals. She’s also studying the use of video cameras to record what goes on in the operating room. “Most of the teaching in surgery happens in the operating room, but it’s the thing we know least about.” she says. Yale suits Sosa well. “I’m extremely happy,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be here.”
But Sosa tells a story suggesting that people still picture surgeons as male. Soon after moving into her new house recently, Sosa received some letters addressed to her neighbor. When she brought the misdelivered letters next door, the neighbor looked at Sosa oddly. “You live next door?” she asked. “We’d heard a surgeon bought the house.”
Stereotypes linger, but the prospects for women in surgery seem to be gradually improving. At Hopkins, where no woman had ever headed a large clinical department, there’s a new director of surgery. Her name is Julie A. Freischlag.