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July 2010 Issue

Graduates Marcella Madera, MD (left), and Ellen Air, MD, PhD, visit with Mayfield Lecturer Karin Muraszko, MD, of the University of Michigan. Muraszko currently is the only woman chair of neurosurgery in the United States.
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Neurosurgery Graduates Join 'The Club'

By Cindy Starr
Published July 2010

That tinkling sound heard at the 2010 graduation ceremonies of the UC neurosurgery department and the Mayfield Clinic residency program on June 4 was another crack in the glass ceiling. For the first time in the program’s history, the graduating residency class was entirely female.

Ellen Air, MD, PhD, and Marcella Madera, MD, were the second and third female residents to complete the grueling, six-year residency program, which was founded in 1946 and graduated its first neurosurgeons in 1952. 

Air and Madera celebrated by making scientific presentations at the Mayfield Neuroscience Symposium in the morning and by accepting an avalanche of accolades that evening during graduation ceremonies at the Frank H. Mayfield Society Annual Banquet.   

Philip Theodosopoulos, MD, director of the neurosurgery residency program, praised Madera for having "the best technical hands around here in a long time.” He lauded Air as "the most intelligent person we’ve had here, bar none.”

"They are two of the finest residents I’ve worked with,” added Robert Bohinski, MD, PhD, at the graduation ceremonies.

Air, a Cincinnati native, will continue her training at the University of California San Francisco, where she will be a fellow in functional neurosurgery. She received her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her doctorate and medical degrees from UC. 

Her presentation at the Mayfield Neuroscience Symposium was titled, "Longitudinal Comparison of Pre- and Postoperative DTI Parameters in Young Hydrocephalic Children.” A paper on which the lecture was based earned her the 2010 Ellen and Stewart B. Dunsker, MD, Award for Clinical Research. The award is given annually to a resident. 

Madera will continue her training at Johns Hopkins University, where she will be a fellow in spine surgery. She received her undergraduate degree from Washington University and her medical degree from the University of Oklahoma. Her symposium presentation was "Atlantoaxial Fix-ation: Review and Description of a New Technique.”

While women made up nearly 49 percent of medical school graduates in 2009, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), they continue to enter neurosurgery in small numbers. Women
accounted for only 12.2 percent of neurosurgery residents in 2008, according to AAMC, the smallest percentage of any specialty. Orthopedic surgery (12.9 percent) and thoracic surgery (13.2 percent) were a close second and third.

Prior to 2010, only one woman, Cynthia Norrgran, in 1989, had graduated from the UC/Mayfield neurosurgery residency program. 

In recognition of the historic occasion, the Mayfield Lecturer at the Mayfield Neuroscience Sym-posium was Karin Muraszko, MD, who became chair of neurosurgery at the University of Michigan in 2005 and remains the only woman chair of a neurosurgical department in the United States. 

"There was a time of the old boys’ club,” Muraszko said during a lecture about leadership development. "It’s now the club.”

Air said that both of her parents tried to discourage her from going into medicine, because they knew first-hand the labor and long hours involved. Her father is an orthopedic surgeon; her mother, Dorothy Air, PhD, is associate senior vice president for entrepreneurial affairs at UC.

"They made certain I had opportunities to look at other career paths,” Air said. "But I was very hard-headed. I was very interested in medicine, in the brain, in science. But it wasn’t until I did my rotation on the neurosurgery service that I knew that this was what I wanted to be.”

Madera said she discovered that she was a surgeon in medical school. 

"At first I didn’t know what kind. When I took a rotation in neurosurgery as an elective, my eyes lit up, my heart lit up. I fell in love. I knew that this was what I was supposed to do. Being in the OR felt like home. I loved being in there. I get chills when I talk about it. I found that working with my hands, being so close to a person, is an honor and a privilege.” 

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