A Woman's Touch
A documentary project on
women in neurosurgery,
working at the frontier
of modern medicine.
1 in 20
Explore the lives and journeys of 4 residents training to be become neurosurgeons at a flagship medical center through this interactive documentary photo project.
Where do you want to go?
The premise of the project is straightforward: Explore the impact of gender in the lives of women with careers in a field that has historically been dominated by men. Barriers facing women in neurosurgery are entrenched deeply in roots of medicine as a discipline. From a Harvard obstetric professor in 1822 declaring “one of the first and happiest fruits of medical education in America” was keeping women out of medicine, to the first female neurosurgeon in the world facing an early death in 1959 after incorrectly being diagnosed with hysteria, the then catch-all malady for women, specialties like neurosurgery have been inaccessible for centuries to women, especially women of color, women of lacking educational opportunity or of low socioeconomic status.
The goal of the project is, first, to contribute to re-inventing the image of what a brain surgeon looks like, literally, through photography. Beyond that, unpacking the concept of gender identity at the level of neurosurgery – where so many more factors beyond gender are at play – is a difficult task. The project sets out, however, to represent both sides of a dichotomy present in any dialogue revolving around identity. That is, to amplify the narratives of women in neurosurgery as they relate directly to the experience of being a woman, and, at the same time, to normalize their presence in the discipline by developing a documentary project about neurosurgeons who are also, or who happen to be, women. In this way, a secondary aim of the project is also to explore neurosurgery, which, in its popular media depictions, is a craft enveloped by the height of the human struggle: an enrapturing journey of humans fixing the most delicate and fragile parts of us - our brains - a task that requires technical and academic training spanning decades.
In a field where much of the action happens veiled by the sterile teal cloths of the operating room, it's hard to imagine what the works really look like. For young girls, finding and image to follow in this kind of work is next to impossible. By following female-identified neurosurgeons at various places in their training, the goal is to shed light on the experiences of neurosurgeons in one of most rigorous and innovative residencies in the nation, at Duke University in Durham, NC. Documentary of this nature is good for medicine. It allows us to see people for more than just a single role – be it provider or patient – and helps to reduce stigmas and ultimately make us more empathetic with populations unlike ourselves.
Some sections contain graphic images of operation, all patient de-identified, and all photos obtained with proper approval, and consent from all parties, departments, and individuals involved and belong to K. L. Graywill.