Lessons from the life of Asia’s first female neurosurgeon for modern neurosurgical trainees and educators worldwide

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  • 1 Faculty of Medicine, King George’s Medical University, Lucknow, India;
  • | 2 Faculty of Medicine, St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore, India; and
  • | 3 Department of Neurosurgery, Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey
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Surgical specialties, and particularly neurosurgery, have historically had and continue to have poor representation of female trainees. This is especially true of South Asia, considering the added social and cultural expectations for women in this region. Yet it was in India, with its difficult history of gender relations, that Asia’s first fully qualified female neurosurgeon, Dr. T. S. Kanaka (1932–2018), took root, flourished, and thereafter played an integral role in helping develop stereotactic and functional neurosurgery in the country. While a few biographical accounts of her exist, highlighted here are the lessons from her illustrious life for neurosurgical trainees and educators worldwide, along with the instances that exemplify those lessons, drawn from several hitherto unutilized primary sources. These lessons are consistent with the factors identified in previous systematic reviews to be contributing to gender disparities in neurosurgery. Many of the virtues that ensured her success are attributes that continue to be critical for a neurosurgical career. Additionally, the circumstances that helped Kanaka succeed have been recounted as considerations for those working to promote diversity and inclusion. Finally, her life choices and sacrifices are described, which are underexplored but relevant concerns for women in neurosurgery.

ABBREVIATIONS

AWNA = Asian Women’s Neurosurgical Association; CMC-V = Christian Medical College, Vellore; MIN = Madras Institute of Neurology; MMC = Madras Medical College; NSI = Neurological Society of India; WFNS = World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies; WINSI = Women in Neurosurgery in India.

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