Saving lives isn’t just for men

by Maiko Chitaia

Women in the Republic of Georgia very often lack a voice of their own. Their opinions, feelings, dreams, aspirations, and achievements can be conveyed by others, often the men around them. The Women in Georgia project gives a voice to these women, allowing them to tell their own stories — in their own words. OC Media brings you a selection of these stories. Here, in her own words, is Tako Saldadze’s.

(Nino Baidauri)

Once, while I was studying medicine in Belarus, my supervisor promised that he would make me a second assistant for an important surgery. But when I entered the operating theatre, the surgeon looked at me and said that considering the complexity and length of the surgical procedure, he couldn’t let woman attend. Right before the operation, I was dismissed, replaced with a male student of the same ability. It was completely unfair.

I went to the the surgeon later to explain that I could hold surgical hooks just as well as a male student. I also said I’d sue them over any further gender discrimination. Since then, I’ve never given up.

Even as a child, I was fascinated by surgery. Back then, before I even knew the name of my future profession, I was certain that I’d be performing operations on people someday. I knew that a desk job was not for me; I need a constant adrenalin and endorphin rush — it’s what I like most about surgery.

I left high school and decided to take the national exams, to keep my studies going. To be honest, I didn’t expect to pass the exams that year. I was taking them as a first step toward preparing myself for the next year. But surprisingly, I passed the national exams and decided to continue my studies in medicine right away.

I remember, in my second year of university, I dyed my hair blonde. It was right before I was to present a paper at a conference. Afterwards, a professor told me that I broke his blonde stereotypes — blondes are generally seen as feeble minded. After that, my desire to break this stereotype grew, and I got even blonder.

“Jobs don’t have a gender”

In Georgia, I was often told by male doctors that surgery was not for women, and I should’ve chosen another career. They said that women were incapable of performing such a difficult and critically important job.

While doing internships, I was always surrounded by male doctors; female surgeons are something of a rarity. My colleagues would all ask, “Surgery is okay, but aren’t you going to have a family?” I would always ask the same question back, to which they’d reply that they’re men. They would throw all kinds of bold answers and counter-arguments my way, so I constantly had to prove that it’s education, knowledge and motivation that matters. Jobs don’t have a gender.

I argued with male surgeons a lot. They used to advise me to try out some other kind of job in medicine. There is serious competition between surgeons, and patients tend to prefer to male surgeons because they doubt a woman’s competence. This misconception is reinforced by the fact that women gained their rights relatively late, including the right to an education — a medical education in particular. Historically, men have dominated the surgeon profession. Not surprisingly, it’s still considered a male job.

People also falsely believe that women are incapable of handling heavy psychological pressure or being on their feet for six or seven hours straight. To this, I would say that the housework women do can be equally hard and stressful, a tremendous amount of labor without any compensation.

I had to fight with these notions every single day. I’ve never doubted my abilities though, so I worked tirelessly to show that women are just as capable of being surgeons.

At my graduation party I was called “hyperactive, hyper-creative driving force of the faculty, emergency-woman, actress, female surgeon” and even a “fan of the bowels.” There were moments when I had doubts whether my lust for this job was just a desire to prove myself, but the way I’m flooded with joy over every operation, over every patient rescued, I feel that yes, this is definitely what I’m supposed to be doing.

(Nino Baidauri)

While I was still a student, my friends and I founded EMSA — the European Medical Students Association — aimed at raising awareness of different health issues among people in rural areas. We were also working to create favorable conditions for collaboration with our peers and future colleagues abroad. Apart from that, EMSA promoted healthy lifestyles and held charity events at the university.

I’ve also worked as an educator for local people and students. Particular attention was paid to women’s rights, health, and reproduction issues. In rural Georgia, conditions and education on the topic can be disastrous. Women there aren’t familiar with their own bodies. We held important classes for teenagers about protection from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, contraception, and family planning.

Yes, I am a surgeon. I often have to stay on my feet for seven hours during operations, and it doesn’t make me tired.

Yes, I am a surgeon. Comments like “women can’t do this” make me work harder to prove those people wrong.

Yes, women can do it and do it, and often better than men.