Home Colorectal Cancer All-female surgical team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance reflects ‘changing landscape’

All-female surgical team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance reflects ‘changing landscape’


January 14, 2021

3 min read


Atkinson, Chen, Cowan and Krane report no relevant financial disclosures.

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As more women seek careers in medicine — and specifically in the field of oncology — they remain underrepresented in many areas of clinical practice.

The colorectal surgical team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is an exception.

Quote from Mukta Katdare Krane, MD, FACS

The all-female team consists of Mukta Katdare Krane, MD, FACS; Sarah J. Atkinson, MD; Joy C. Chen, MD, MS; and Michelle Lee Cowan, MD, all of whom specialize in the treatment of colon, rectal and anal cancers and hold positions as associate or assistant professors at University of Washington Medicine, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s alliance partner.

“While our team was not intentionally developed as all-female, we do see our group as a reflection of the changing landscape in medicine and more specifically surgery,” Krane told Healio. “It is a pleasure to see increased diversity in both gender and underrepresented minorities in the surgical field and more women gaining roles in leadership. We hope by being an inclusive surgical group, coupled with our expert multidisciplinary clinical approach, we can grow to serve a broader and more diverse patient population as well.”

Krane’s clinical expertise includes use of minimally invasive surgical techniques. Her research interests focus on quality of life and functional outcomes after colorectal cancer treatment and disparities in health care delivery.

In 2020, Seattle Met and Seattle Magazine listed Krane among the top doctors for colon and rectal surgery.

“When I was an intern, I was one of the only women in my class,” Krane said. “So, it is really exciting for me to see that there are more and more women entering the field of surgery while also gaining leadership roles. I think there are various benefits that we offer patients, particularly for some of our female patients, who may feel more comfortable talking about intimate details of care or functional outcomes.”

Atkinson also was named among the top doctors for colon and rectal surgery by Seattle Met in 2020.

Sarah J. Atkinson, MD

Sarah J. Atkinson

“I became a surgeon largely because I really value the surgeon-patient relationship,” she told Healio. “Often in oncology, the first time we meet a patient can be during one of the worst times in their lives. To be able to hear their experiences, go through their particular disease process with them, and ultimately come together with a personalized plan of action and path forward is an incredible privilege. Being part of an all-female team is a unique experience and overall gives me great pride to be part of a very supportive team. We support each other both in and out of the operating room, while at the same time pushing each other to be better.”

Chen’s professional interests include improving access to preventive colorectal cancer screenings and multidisciplinary care in underserved communities. Her research has focused on the role that academic institutions can play in supporting preventive health for colorectal cancer.

Joy C. Chen, MD, MS

Joy C. Chen

“I believe that every patient should have access to the same high-quality, evidence-driven care. It’s my job to help patients navigate the complex world of cancer treatment so they can make the best decision for themselves,” Chen told Healio. “To do this, it’s important for me to listen and have open discussions with patients and their families. Every person’s experiences and challenges are unique, so the solution must be tailored to fit their needs as they evolve. As a female surgeon, female patients may have an easier time discussing the personal aspects of their cancer process, and that is helpful for me to help them navigate their unique experiences and provide the best care possible.”

Cowan said that she is dedicated to applying a minimally invasive approach to the management of diseases of the colon and rectum — such as robotic, endoscopic or laparoscopic surgery — whenever possible. In addition to her work with patients, she studies quality-of-life issues and health care disparities as they relate to surgical cancer care.

Michelle Lee Cowen, MD

Michelle Lee Cowen

“Like most academic departments or businesses, medicine is traditionally a male-dominated field. I think having an all-female surgical team really reflects the changing landscape of academics in both medicine and surgery specifically,” Cowan told Healio. “However, first and foremost we are all surgeons. We have all been through rigorous and prestigious training in order to get to where we are and provide our patients with the best cancer care possible. The fact that we are all women is just icing on the cake and hopefully allows the team to be role models for young women who want to be surgeons as well.”


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