More than 20 female surgeons from throughout the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center have come together to form a local chapter of the Association of Women Surgeons (AWS). Founded in 1981, the AWS is an international organization committed to supporting the professional and personal needs of female surgeons at various stages of their careers.

“We felt that with the increased number of female surgeons at our institution we should form this chapter,” says Dr. Selina Silva, who joined UNM’s Department of Orthopaedics in 2011 and is a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Carrie Tingley Hospital. “We also wanted to acknowledge our former colleague Dr. Elizabeth Szalay as being one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons who has opened many doors for women in surgery.”

Szalay, who passed away this past December after a two-year battle with cancer, joined UNM Orthopaedics in 2002 after building an 18-year medical career that began as a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and later included orthopaedic surgery with Beaumont Bone & Joint Institute in Texas and Orthopaedic Associates of Northern New Mexico in Santa Fe. Along the way, she served as president of the New Mexico Orthopaedic Association, chaired committees for the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America, lectured worldwide and conducted research on pediatric osteoporosis/bone health, and was sought after as an internationally certified clinical densitometrist.

Szalay also organized an annual pediatric orthopaedic surgical mission to Guayaquil, Ecuador. “She was one of the first female orthopaedic surgeons and opened many doors for others who followed in her footsteps," says Silva. “She also helped dispel the common impression of women surgeons not wanting to work hard or produce as much as our male counterparts and served as an inspiration to many.”

The AWS UNM chapter is open to both attending physicians and residents. Besides the Department of Orthopaedics, its membership currently includes female surgeons from UNM’s Surgery (including the Division of Urology), Neurosurgery and Ear, Nose and Throat departments. The AWS comprises a network of more than 1,400 members from 15 countries internationally. To join the UNM Chapter, email SSilva@salud.unm.edu or visit the website.