Dr. Linda M. Dairki Shortliffe built a successful career in the relatively new field of pediatric urology when very few women surgeons were doing such work. Since 1988, she has been at the Stanford University School of Medicine Medical Center and Packard Children's Hospital as chief of pediatric urology. Since 1993, she has also been director of the Urology Residency Program at Stanford, and has been successful in recruiting more women physicians to her specialty. She noted that the numbers have grown rapidly; when she got her board certification in urology in 1983, there were only fifteen women urologists in the U.S. Now there are more than two hundred.
Dr. Shortliffe cites her parents' experience during World War II as a major influence on her choice of career. As Japanese-Americans, they spent the war in the internment camps, and later faced employment discrimination. Though her father was a skilled engineer, he was vulnerable to layoffs. He warned all three of his children to train for essential (and portable) careers, such as medicine or dentistry. Although several uncles are dentists, no one else in her immediate family went into medicine.
When she started her medical training, Dr. Shortliffe was drawn immediately to surgery, and planned to pursue a residency in plastic surgery. Two things made her consider urological surgery instead. By chance, the first surgery she was invited to assist with was a urology procedure. Then, as she worked through the rotations in her internship, she felt that urologists were far more collegial than those in other specialties. When a urology residency unexpectedly opened up at Stanford, she accepted the offer.
From 1981 to 1986, she was chief of urology at Palo Alto Veteran's Administration Hospital, and did research on prostate disease. She was drawn to pediatric urology, however, because she was most interested in doing reconstructive surgery, and that's what most pediatric urology problems require.
Dr. Shortliffe's residency program at Stanford has helped open up the field of pediatric urology to women physicians. Her own example, of succeeding in a surgical specialty as well as raising a family (she has two teenage daughters), may serve to draw women to the field, and her residency program gives them a supportive environment to completing their training in. Yet surgery retains a reputation as an unwelcoming field for women, especially those who want to have children. The rewards, for those who preserve, are well worth it. "Perhaps the most important satisfaction," she says, "is a constant association with new ideas, and later seeing those ideas turned into action. It is exciting to see hypotheses become study protocols, then experimental research, and then accepted as fact or routine treatment. Watching and participating in the evolution of ideas are most gratifying."