Leaping ahead by Ruel Johnson
January 11, 2004
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`Samantha Tross is one of the small but growing number of female surgeons now practising in Britain. Although nearly fifty per cent of medical graduates are women, most enter general practice. The figure for those going into surgery falls to below five per cent...[T]he shortage of women at the top of their profession - the consultant surgeons - is even more acute. There are, for example, only seventeen female consultant orthopaedic surgeons in the country!' - UK photographer and racial equality activist, Mr. Derek Burnett
THE abbreviations `Dr.' `MBBS' and `FRCS' circle Samantha' Tross' name like satellites.
And she's got a laid back attitude which seems to indicate that the 24 of her 35 years that she has spent living in Britain hasn't saturated her personality with the sort of staidness that the British are legendary for.
That she could win any beauty contest hands down, if she were so inclined doesn't hurt much either.
Just who is Samantha Tross anyway? She is part of a rising clique of young, talented Black British - and of another sub-group of Guyanese high-achievers - and holds the distinction of being the first woman British consultant orthopaedic surgeon of African ancestry.
Samantha Tross was born at the Georgetown hospital on June 30, 1968 to Sammy and Gwendolin, the second of their four children. She went to St. Gabriel's Primary School and was slated to go on to Queen's College when her father, at the time working with the Commonwealth Secretariat, was assigned to a post that would see him travelling extensively. The family officially took up residence in England.
Despite the fact that she never got to go to Queen's College, she is adamant that she is, nevertheless, "a QC girl." In England, she attended a series of private secondary schools starting off with St. Christopher School (Hertfordshire) where she had to be put forward one year because of the outstanding ability she showed over her classmates. She went next to Rodney School in Nottinghamshire; and then finished her A-Levels at Matthew Boulton College, in Birmingham.
During her secondary school years, Samantha was an avid sportswoman, specialising in the 100 metre and 200 metre sprint races and the long jump. One year she earned herself the Victrix Ludorum for her achievements in the three events; and she later went on to become the UK National Champion for her age group in the long jump.
After graduating from Matthew Boulton, she went on to the University College of London where she had outstanding success in a different type of sporting activity: when she wasn't studying, she was out partying and enjoying herself. In fact, she frequented a popular Soho club - one interestingly named, `Moonlighting' - so religiously that the club manager, a Guyanese, decided to make her an honorary member. Moonlighting in `Moonlighting' gave her the opportunity to meet her fair share of celebrities including American comedian Eddie Murphy and West Indian cricketers like Courtney Walsh and Viv Richards.
A POSITIVE EXAMPLE OF BLACK ACHIEVEMENT
In between the nights out, Samantha proved that she was just as efficient a mover and shaker in the classroom as she was on the dance floor. She obtained her Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree in 1992, after which she decided to specialise in orthopaedic surgery.
Orthopaedic surgery is, in relation to the history of medicine, a relatively new field of surgery, a bit over a century old. Like most areas of the medical profession, it has been dominated by men. When Samantha Tross met a female orthopaedic surgeon, she decided that this field of endeavour was indeed the career for her. She had always been interested in medicine, but was wavering between general surgery and obstetrics.
With orthopaedic surgery, she says, there are a couple of factors which make it different from other types of surgery. In addition to the obvious pleasure she derives from her career and her fascination with the tools involved, orthopaedic surgery is a "cleaner [type of] surgery" - none of the messy body fluids and organs that other types of surgery involve. Secondly, one gets to see the benefits of one's work faster she said. You repair someone's leg and a relatively short time - compared with other types of invasive medical procedures - the person is up and about again.
Last year, after six years of repairing her patients' bones, Samantha finally achieved full consultant status after becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Orthopaedic Surgeons, specialising in Adult Reconstructive (commonly called Hip and Knee Replacement) Surgery.
In a country where persons belonging to ethnic minorities seem to compete ferociously, Samantha's achievement has been chronicled by UK photographer and racial equality activist, Mr. Derek Burnett in his book of profiles of top black British achievers, Millennium People: The soul of success. He puts Samantha's accomplishment into proper perspective:
"Samantha Tross is one of the small but growing number of female surgeons now practising in Britain. Although nearly fifty per cent of medical graduates are women, most enter general practice. The figure for those going into surgery falls to below five per cent...[T]he shortage of women at the top of their profession - the consultant surgeons - is even more acute. There are, for example, only seventeen female consultant orthopaedic surgeons in the country!"
Interestingly enough, this is not the only instance of Samantha's success being recorded in a book. In 2001, Tamarind Press, a children's book publisher released a partly fictionalised biography of the young doctor, chronicling her early life in Guyana, her days at boarding school and her entry into the medical profession. The book, simply titled Samantha Tross: Surgeon, was part of a series put out by the publisher. During Black History Month 2001, the Manchester Board of Education recommended the book as part of list of contemporary biographies of black achievers to be read by children in the 8-11 years age bracket.
She says that all the attention took some time to sink in. The Millennium People profile, for example, came as a surprise. She told the Sunday Chronicle during an interview at her Garnett Street home, that she felt out of place among people like fellow Guyanese like Trevor Phillips and Baroness Amos, people already into the height of their careers, while she was now beginning hers. She nevertheless sees the publicity as useful because it is part of a concerted effort to provide young Black Britons with the positive role models that they have been missing for too long. As she said in the Derek Burnett interview and reiterated almost verbatim to the Sunday Chronicle, "Young black people in the UK are not exposed to enough positive examples of black achievement or widely encouraged that they too can become doctors if they want to."
Definitely a poster girl for her cause, Samantha Tross' career has been leaping ahead. New consultant surgeons are encouraged to spend a year overseas before returning to practise in Great Britain. Last year, Samantha spent her first six months in Canada working at a Toronto Hospital, an experience she considers rewarding enough for her to consider her migrating there.
Samantha left Guyana Wednesday for Toronto, on the way to Sidney, Australia where she will spend the remaining six months of her overseas tenure.
When asked if her travelling will ever lead her back to Guyana - that is, outside of her almost yearly visits - Samantha Tross says that she would definitely like to live here in Guyana, but only if things were to change, both in the medical arena and the society at large. Barring that, she says that she will consider bringing over a medical team to undertake charity work, sometime in the future.