Wednesday, March 19, 2014 WOMEN OF MEDICINE
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Dr. Charlotte Alexander works in her office near St. Luke’s Wood River hospital.
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Female surgeon flourishes in a mostly male field Dr. Ch a r lot te A lex a nder h a s wor k ed i n va lle y for 18 y e a rs By GREG MOORE— Express Staff Writer
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fter working for 18 years in the Wood River life-and-death issues. In orthopedics, she said, the Valley, Dr. Charlotte Alexander says she’s outcomes are usually good. “You’re not dealing with things that can’t be ﬁxed,” glad she became a hand surgeon rather than pursuing a career in her other ﬁeld of interest—music. she said. “Orthopedists like to ﬁx things.” Alexander said she became interested in hand Aside from having a more ﬁnancially secure profession, Alexander said she feels she has been able to surgery because she was fascinated by the intricacy of serve her patients, especially women, with an abil- the anatomy. “You have to not be in a hurry,” she said. “You ity to communicate that is often lacking in her male have to like tedious work. But I’m just fascinated by counterparts. Of the eight general and orthopedic surgeons listed that sort of thing.” However, she said, the longer she has practiced, the in the Wood River Valley Yellow Pages, Alexander is the only woman. Nationwide, that ratio is even more less she turns to surgery as a solution. “As you get more experienced in outcomes, you lopsided. Though women make up about one-third of the population of doctors in the United States, they start to realize that you’re not going to be able to make some things better with the things that comprise only about 4.3 percent of you learned in your residency,” she certiﬁed orthopedic surgeons, accordsaid. “You learn that certain kinds of ing to the American Academy of patients do better with conservative Orthopaedic Surgeons. management.” That number appears to be on the Alexander also said that she makes rise—according to the academy, in it a point to discuss with her patients 2010, 14 percent of orthopedic resiall of the potential causes of their dents were women, up from 8 percent problems. in 2000. “Your hand is your connection to Various people studying the subject life and to your experiences. I feel that have attributed the slow emergence of I spend more time dealing with the women in the ﬁeld to an inaccurate perception that the specialty requires Dr. Charlotte Alexander whole patient than do most orthopedic surgeons.” strength and to a scarcity of female role She said she thinks her approach is models. “While the need for physical strength may have beneﬁcial to both male and female patients, but that her played a role decades ago, advances in modern-day willingness to talk is most appreciated by the women. “That’s what women do!” she said. medical equipment have shifted the primary requisites Alexander shares her ofﬁce with her husband, Dr. from brute strength to manual dexterity, mechanical ability and an aptitude in three-dimensional visualiza- Herb Alexander, an orthopedist who specializes in tion,” wrote Dr. Mary O’Conner, chair of the Depart- sports medicine and fractures. The two met while they were both in residency at ment of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic, in a the Oakland Naval Hospital, he as a senior resident, blog for The Hufﬁngton Post in August 2012. When Alexander, 61, began her residency, the she in her ﬁrst year. She said their close relationship numbers were even worse. She said that during her allows them to consult with one another frequently medical school interviews, she was asked whether she and to refer patients. “It’s great most of the time,” she said, though she planned to get married and to have children. However, she said, she didn’t see herself as a pioneer adds with a laugh, “There are times when we could be called the Bickersons!” for women’s rights. Alexander hasn’t abandoned her interest in music. “It was odd being a woman in orthopedics,” she said, “but I just didn’t put that into the equation—I She still sings regularly with the Caritas Chorale, and said she prefers it as a hobby. just liked what I was doing.” “I don’t think I would have enjoyed music so much She said she chose her ﬁeld partly because she was turned off by the big egos of many general and cardio- if I had to do it to make a living,” she said. That’s probably a good thing for Wood River Valley thoracic surgeons whom she encountered. During her time in medical school and her residency, she said, the residents as well, who have an attentive and adept local specialist to turn to when their manual connection to “orthopods” just seemed like more normal people. She said she also prefers not having to deal with life isn’t what it used to be.
“Your hand is your connection to life and to your experiences.”