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Magoffin native first female in residency program


A Magoffin native is paving her own way in a very male-dominated field, set to start her orthopedic surgery residency in New York in July.

Haley (Isaac) Sernandez graduated from Magoffin County High School as valedictorian of the class of 2011. As a junior in high school her dad saw a piece in the newspaper about the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine (KYCOM) program at the University of Pikeville.

High school students accepted into the program agree to going to UPike for their undergraduate studies and, if they keep their grades up and meet all the program’s criteria, they are accepted into medical school at the university.

Sernandez is set to graduate from KYCOM this Saturday, May 4, officially earning her title as Dr. Sernandez, and she will start her five-year orthopedic surgery residency at the Nassau University Medical Center in Long Island, New York, in July.

While the Independent is always glad to see a Magoffin native do well, Sernanez’s journey is a little more special when you know how few females actually go into orthopedic surgery.

She explained that with orthopedics, she’s worked in sports clinics, with mostly male staff and patients.

“They walk in and see me, and even if I tell them who I am, they’ll still ask, ‘am I going to get to see a doctor?’” Sernandez said.

As far as statistics, only 4% of practicing orthopedic surgeons are female and 14% are in residency.

“It’s very common for me to walk in and there be 30 male residents at the hospital, and then me,” Sernandez said. 

She said the field is classically known as being filled with strong men, while women are pushed away from it.

“It’s so hard to get acceptance because it’s already been painted that way,” she said. “It’s the ‘good ol’ boys’ and they go to they gym and play basketball, and here I am. I’m girly. I wear dresses and I fix my hair. I knew I had to find someone more open.”

She said that’s why she looked to New York, where diversity was more of a non-issue.

“They care more about if you’re a good, hard worker,” Sernandez said.

While another field may have been easier to break into, she said she had no interest in pursuing anthing else.

“I’ve known since I was 18 and I got to watch my first surgery, an amputation, at a summer camp at UK. I saw that surgery and I knew orthopedics was what I wanted to do.”

She said orthopedics is extremely rewarding.

“You can go, ‘this is the problem, and here’s how we’re going to fix it,’” Sernandez explained. “I like the difference we can make. Someone can come in with a fracture and the next day they can walk. It’s very rewarding in the physical/visual sense.”

Taking the residency in New York, she now tells everyone to think about his/her wildest, biggest dream and just go for it.

“I was scared,” Sernandez said. “Could I do it? I didn’t know. Go with your dream and give it your best shot and hope it all works out. If not, you’ll know you tried your best.”

She said her husband, Marcos Sernandez Fondelius, is her biggest supporter, telling her, “You know you are a good student. You are a good person. You’ve got to give it your best.”

So, come July, she’ll be doing her best at Nassau University Medical Center, a level 1 trauma center. 

“Things get broken, so we fix it,” Sernandez said.

The student government at UPike recently did a project called “I Am Your Student Doctor,” featuring a series of stories on the diversity of the students in the program, in which Sernandez was featured. Her story is included below this article.

“This happens every single week,” Sernandez said, referring to people not believing she was the orthopedic surgery student doctor. “All the time.”

She said she felt drawn to write about her experiences, hoping it could help younger students.

Sernandez is the daughter of Chris and Caroline Isaac.

I Am Your Student Doctor

“I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon since I was 18 years old, after I watched my first surgery, an above the knee amputation. It has been quite the endeavor, given only 4% of practicing orthopedic surgeons and 14% of orthopedic surgery residents are female. If I could only count the number of times I have been mistaken for a nurse, a medical assistant, a secretary, literally everything but a student doctor during my clinicals. I try to keep face whenever another patient asks me, “when will I graduate nursing school?”, even though the doctor literally just introduced me as a student doctor. I even had a mother (yes another female…) ask the attending if it would be a man or a woman performing the surgery on their son, all the while giving me the side eyes. During audition rotations I was usually the only female in a room of 30+ older male orthopedic residents and attendings. And not everyone welcomed me with open arms. I had attending surgeons say to me, “can you hold that ______? It might be too heavy for a girl.” I even had one assistant program director say to me, “you know what I am not looking for? A female.” These are all true stories. But these moments made me want to reach my goal only that much more. I am proud to say I am the first female accepted into my residency program. I am proud to say I am the first female to come from KYCOM who will specialize in orthopedics. Sometime during the past year I realized I wasn’t just fighting for myself anymore. I am helping to pave the way for other females, just like myself, who will come after me” #ilooklikeasurgeon

-Haley Sernandez


Heather Oney

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