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USA Science & Engineering Festival – Role Models in Science & Engineering Achievement

Karin Muraszko

Karin Muraszko – Pediatric Neurosurgeon
The first and only female to head an academic neurosurgery department at a U.S. medical school. She effectively handles her demanding surgical, teaching and administrative head duties despite having a spinal disorder known as spina bifida.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, of the approximately 4,920 neurosurgeons in the United States today, only about 5.6 percent – or 277 – are women. One of these women is Dr. Karen Muraszko at the University of Michigan where, as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, is the first female in the nation to head a neurosurgery department at a medical school.

In addition, this leading neurosurgeon, who specializes in treating children suffering from disorders and injuries to the brain and spinal cord, has herself had to overcome difficulties associated with a spinal disorder. Since childhood, she has had spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord does not close completely.

As an adolescent she underwent surgery for the condition, which has helped lessen the severity of her disability, but the condition still requires the 4 foot, 9-inch tall physician to wear a leg brace and special shoes to elevate her height in order to perform her dues in the operating room and as a administrative leader, and teacher of surgical residents. Inspired by her motto: "Don't let your handicap hold you back," Karin often adds: ''My disability has been a challenge, not a barrier. It has never prevented me from giving my patients the best of care or kept me from carrying out other roles in my position."

Why She's Important: In addition to being one of nation's leading pediatric neurosurgeons, Dr. Karin Muraszko, who is currently the Julian T. Hoff Professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan, is the first woman to head a neurosurgery department at any medical school in the U.S. She specializes in brain and spinal cord abnormalities, and has herself had a spinal cord abnormality called spina bifida since childhood.

Other Achievements: Earlier in her medical career, Dr. Muraszko was the first disabled person to be offered a residency in neurological surgery at Columbia-Presbyterian. ''Dr. Muraszko is the most outstanding person I've met in medicine,'' said Dr. Bennett M. Stein, then the chairman of Columbia-Presbyterian neurological surgery department. Today, Karin also serves as a director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

In addition, she keeps busy working with other surgical team members in helping to treat pediatric neurosurgery cases in Guatemala through an foreign outreach program called "Project Shunt", of which she serves as medical director. The program is part of a medical charity known as "Healing the Children."

Karin is also the recipient of numerous awards for her work, including the 2005 Nina Starr Braunwald Award from the Association of Women Surgeons for her outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in surgery.

Education: She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Yale University, majoring in history and biology, and her medical degree from Columbia University College of Medicine.

In Her Own Words: ''Because of my handicap, patients open up to me,'' says Dr. Muraszko. ''I can understand their pain and encourage them to get beyond it, because they cannot say to me the way they can to other doctors, 'What do you know about suffering?' ''

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