Tako Saldadze, 25 years old, Kutaisi/Minsk

During my study in Belarus, my supervisor promised he would take me as a second assistant to a surgeon for one of the important surgeries. On entering operating theatre, the surgeon looked at me and said that considering complexity and length of the surgical procedure he couldn’t let woman attend as he doubted her abilities. Right before the operation, I’ve been dismissed and replaced by the male student of a similar rank. “That was unfair” („это нечестно“) I said later to the surgeon and explained to him that despite my sex I could hold surgical hooks just as well as my fellow male student. I also said I’m going to sue them in case of any further gender discrimination against me. Since then I’ve never given up the ghost.

Even as a child, I was always fascinated by surgery. Back then, without even knowing the name of my future profession, I knew for certain I was going to perform operations on people. A desk job was not for me; constant adrenalin and endorphin rush – that’s what I liked about surgeon’s job most. I left Kutaisi first public school and decided to take national exams to gain some experience. To be honest, it wasn’t my intention to pass the exams that year as I was going to prepare better for the exams and go to university in Tbilisi. But surprisingly I passed national exams successfully and made my mind up to continue with my study at Akaki Tsereteli State University department of medicine.

I’ve never faced opposition from my parents on picking my profession. There is a curious fact I remember; in my second year, I dyed my hair blond. It coincided with me giving a paper at the conference. Afterwards, one professor told me I broke blonde stereotype as, he said, blondies are generally to be seen as the light-minded. After that, by the way, the desire for breaking blonde stereotypes became stronger in me and I got even blonder.

In Georgia, I was often told by male doctors, general surgery was not for women to do and I should’ve picked up another area of occupation, that no woman was capable of performing such a hard and extremely responsible job. When serving my internship in Kutaisi hospitals, I had to work surrounded by male doctors as female surgeons are something of a rarity. Surprised, all my colleagues would ask: Surgery’s all right, but aren’t you going to have a family?! Asked the same question, they would reply that they are men. I used to get gripped by this protest immediately and with bold answers and counter-arguments, I had to prove that it’s an education, knowledge and willingness that matters and that jobs don’t have a gender…

I often had to argue as male surgeons tend to consider this job a male profession. They used to advise me to try myself in some other kind of medical job since there is a huge competition between surgeons and most patients give preference to male surgeons as they doubt women’s competence. This misconception is reinforced by the fact that women gained their rights relatively late, including the right to education and medical education in particular so historically men used to dominate surgeon’s profession and not surprisingly it is considered a male job. Another false belief is that women are incapable of getting over psychological pressure and being on their feet for some 6 or 7 hours. To this, I would say that housework all women do is equally hard and stressful. Many women have to remain on their feet all day and perform a tremendous amount of housework without any compensation. I often thought that government should set compensation for housewives and make it a separate profession.

I had to fight with these kinds of assumptions every day. I’ve never doubted my abilities though, so I doubled my efforts to show that women are also capable of being professional surgeons. At graduation party I’ve been named “hyperactive, hyper-creative driving force of the faculty, emergency-woman, actress, female surgeon and even „fan of the bowels”. There were moments when I was having doubts whether the lust for this job to be just a desire to prove myself, I thought it to be the only motivation, but the way I get flooded with joy over each operation, over each rescued patient I feel that yes, this IS indeed my vocation.
When still studying in university, my friends and I founded EMSA –European Medical Students Association aimed at raising awareness of health issues among people living in regions. We were also working on creating favourable conditions for collaboration with our peers and future colleagues abroad. Apart from that, EMSA Kutaisi would put great emphasis on promoting a healthy lifestyle as well as holding charity events in the university. I’ve also worked as an equal educator for the association Hera XXI where we were holding meetings with local people and students. Particular attention was paid to women’s rights, their health and reproduction issues. There is a disastrous situation in regions in this regard and mainly because of lack of education. Women are not familiar with their own bodies. It is essential to hold classes for teenagers in their 10th year in schools to make them aware of how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, what contraceptives are available and how to make better family planning.

There are many medical students from Georgia continuing their studies in post-soviet countries as Georgian system of medical education is by far rigid. I used to have some good offers in Georgia, however, I decided on receiving education abroad where there are better chances to gain experience and get better practice than in our country.

Finally, anyone can enter any profession they like, which they are interested in if they set a goal and make their best to achieve it!
Yes, I am a surgeon. I often have to stay on my feet for 5-6 hours during operations and it doesn’t make me tired!
Yes, I am a surgeon and comments like “a woman can’t do this” make me stronger to prove those people wrong – yes, women can do it and do it better than men!

Author: Maiko Chitaia
Photo credit: Nino Baidauri
Translation: Nino Suramelashvili