Otologist-neurotologist Sujana S. Chandrasekhar, MD, FACS, whose efforts have directly increased the active involvement of women in otolaryngology and other surgical specialties, is the recipient of the 2023 American College of Surgeons (ACS) Dr Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award.
ACS President Christopher Ellison, MD, FACS, will present the award to Dr Chandrasekhar on October 22 during the Convocation ceremony preceding the opening of the ACS Clinical Congress 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts.
The award, established by the ACS Women in Surgery Committee in 2016, is presented annually at the Clinical Congress in recognition of an individual’s contributions to the advancement of women in the field of surgery. The award honors the fortitude and accomplishments of Dr Mary Edwards Walker, the first woman surgeon to serve in the U.S. Army and the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. armed forces decoration for valor.
“Receiving this award is a huge honor for me,” says Chandrasekhar, a partner at ENT and Allergy Associates and president of the American Otological Society (AOS). “Awards like this showcase the importance that the House of Medicine, our House of Medicine, puts on supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in surgery.”
A Chance to ‘Play Detective’ as Otologist-Neurotologist
Chandrasekhar was drawn into leadership roles early in her career.
As a medical student completing her rotations, an attending resident encouraged her to always put her best self forward. “She just loved what she did and loved to teach us late in the operating room and early in the morning,” Chandrasekhar recalls. “There was no grumbling. The only thing that seemed to upset her was if we didn’t seem to care what we were doing.”
“At the same time, I was a medical student when it was common for people to say things like, ‘Girls don’t do surgery’ or ‘Why are you taking a seat from a man?’. It was really a weird time when some people felt comfortable making these statements,” she adds. “But I had enough men and women who told me, ‘You can do this’.”
Drawn to the diverse field of otolaryngology, a medical and surgical specialty focused on treating conditions of the ears, nose, and throat, Chandrasekhar immersed herself in the role of detective, helping patients with dizziness, tinnitus, and other medical issues discover the root cause of some of their symptoms, and performing surgeries to restore hearing and enhance quality of life.
As her career progressed, she sought ways to improve the quality of care she could provide patients as an otologist-neurotologist, joining the AOS, American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), the Triological Society, the American Neurotology Society (ANS), and later the ACS, slowly taking on more leadership roles. Through these roles, she noticed gaps where women and other underrepresented populations in medicine were not adequately represented in meetings and other leadership positions.
Inspiring Women Through Actionable Change
In 2017, after listening to a panel featuring only men at the annual ANS conference, Chandrasekhar expressed concern that more was not being done to bring diverse voices into panel sessions. As a result of her speaking up, the ANS, AOS, and sister societies changed their bylaws to prevent panel sessions featuring only men. She successfully advocated for all panel submissions to the AAO-HNS Annual Meeting to document the presence of a woman or physician who is under-represented in medicine (URIM), which drastically improved meeting diversity.
“Dr Chandrasekhar’s contributions to advancing women in surgery are numerous and impactful,” says Nancy Young, MD, FACS, FAAP, Lillian S Wells Professor of Pediatric Otolaryngology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who has worked closely with Chandrasekhar on committees and on leadership boards of professional societies for more than 20 years. “She is a woman of courage who speaks with grace and diplomacy.”
Chandrasekhar was part of a group of determined women ENT surgeons who spearheaded the creation of the Women in Otolaryngology (WIO) Section of the AAO-HNS Foundation and ensured a permanent WIO seat on the AAO-HNS Finance and Investment Subcommittee and Board of Directors. These efforts resulted in over $150,000 in grants disbursed to projects focused on women in otolaryngology.
As the consulting editor for Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, she has made women 50% of all guest editors and added many URIM physicians in the same role, while increasing reach and impact.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she took another role as an educator, co-hosting a videocast, “She’s on Call,” with Marina Kurian, MD, FACS. The videocast showcased different topics in medicine for the public, medical students, and healthcare providers.
“I’m really proud that in a small way, I’ve been able to show my wing of the House of Medicine that it’s important to look to diverse content producers,” Chandrasekhar says. “Now I’m so glad that people of all backgrounds can look at a panel session and say to themselves, ‘I can be there too.’”
Chandrasekhar obtained her 6-year BS-MD from the City University of New York (now CUNY Med) and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She served as an intern, resident, and chief resident in general surgery and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at New York University Medical Center and completed a fellowship in otology/neurotology at the House Ear Clinic and Institute in Los Angeles, California. She has received many awards, has been a visiting professor or keynote speaker on 25 occasions, and has published 112 peer-reviewed articles.
She currently serves as president of the AOS and is the former president of the AAO-HNS and its foundation. She is the immediate past vice president of the Eastern Section of the Triological Society and chair of its Combined Sections Program.
She is a partner at ENT and Allergy Associates, the largest ENT, allergy, and audiology practice in the nation. Chandrasekhar practices at ENTA’s Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY and Parsippany, NJ offices. She is also director of neurotology at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center, clinical professor of otolaryngology at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra-Northwell, and clinical associate professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai—all in the New York metropolitan area—as well as a teaching faculty member of five otolaryngology residency programs.
Featured image: Otologist-Neurotologist Sujana S. Chandrasekhar Honored with Dr Mary Edwards Walker Inspiring Women in Surgery Award. Photo courtesy: American College of Surgeons