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Controversy on Valentine's Day

Carl G. Streed Jr.
AMSA National LGBT Policy Coordinator

Last month, before taking the gavel as the new president of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Lazar Greenfield resigned. The reason: an editorial in the ACS newspaper that has divided its membership and warranted questions regarding the ACS’s attitude toward women and sexual minorities.

Dr. Lazar Greenfield, an emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, wrote in his St. Valentine’s editorial of recent research by evolutionary psychologists describing the antidepressant qualities of semen. He concluded by saying, “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”

Following complaints, the editorial was retracted and Dr. Greenfield stepped down as editor-in-chief of ACS’s newspaper. However, mounting complaints from the Women in Surgery Committee, the Association of Women Surgeons, and many members of the ACS have resulted in Dr. Greenfield’s resignation as president-elect.

This episode comes at a time when gender equality is just beginning to become something of a reality in medicine: nearly half of all entering medical school classes are women in the United States. However, change has been slow: fewer than a third of women medical school graduates choose to go into surgery. Much of the apprehension of becoming a surgeon is due to perceived male bias, negative attitudes of surgeons, and a lack of female mentors. Let’s not forget an unexplained $16,819 gap exists between newly trained men and women doctors. Furthermore, nearly a third of women surgeons report inappropriate sexist remarks or advances. And though Dr. Greenfield has apologized as he should, his editorial is a major setback in turning the tide on sexism in the medical and surgical profession.

AMSA member responses to the NYTimes blog have ranged from calm and collected to absolutely aghast. Katherine Ellington, Vice President for Program Development, AMSA, had the following words of wisdom response:

1) Good work and success never excuses poor behavior or professional misconduct

2) Your personal point of view may not be suited for public discourse especially if it's offensive, harmful or discriminatory; you put your reputation and legacy at risk

3) Words matter

So following Dr. Greenfield’s resignation, we hope the ACS will more directly address sexism and discrimination within its ranks and in the broader medical community.

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