This profile is part of the story Women Unlimited: Closing the Gender Gap in Medicine and Science.
Though born in the machismo culture of Colombia, Jimena Cubillos, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was 6, was always told by her parents she could be anything she wanted when she grew up.
She would go on to pursue a career in the heavily male-dominated field of urology, becoming the only pediatric surgeon, male or female, to perform robotic procedures at Golisano Children’s Hospital—and one of a minority of urology surgeons to do so nationally.
Cubillos, with expertise in minimally invasive, laparoscopic, and robotic pediatric urology, has been at the forefront of social change in academic medicine since studying at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
“Our class was the first year there was an equivalent number of males and females, and the class after us had more women than men for the first time,” she recalls. “It was definitely a point of pride. We felt like we had beaten the gender gap, and the administration talked about it on a regular basis.”
In small ways her gender as a female physician comes into play, such as when she’s talking socially with male colleagues after rounds and has to split off from the group when it’s time to change into scrubs in a separate locker room.
“You’re not privy to that half of the conversation, but it’s not intentional,” she says. “There’s just a reality that exists. Though to be honest, I’m glad I’ve never had to see a department chairman in his skivvies.” People in her department have gone out of their way to help her advance in her career, Cubillos says. When she recommended someone in particular for the position of division chief in her department, her chair and division chief both suggested it would be a good idea for her to take on the role—for her, personally, and for the field on a national level, which needed more female division chiefs. At the time she wanted to start focusing on quality efforts instead, so she declined to pursue the opportunity, but she appreciated the confidence in her potential and the continued support that followed.
Cubillos had been careful from early on to choose only supportive surroundings. When applying for a residency, for instance, she heard through word-of-mouth she should avoid known “malignant programs for women.”
Today, the face of urology is changing. While Cubillos used to be able to count the number of women in urology who attended national meetings, she says that statistic is growing.
“There are definitely a lot more women now, and they’re younger, so a new generation is coming into the field,” she says. “I think the workforce is going to change, and it’s going to become more acceptable to do things like job share and work part-time. I’m hopeful.”