Of all the medical specialties, orthopedic surgery is arguably the most physically demanding. Pushing bones back into place requires brute force, while long surgery sessions demand stamina – which may explain why orthopedics is one of the few medical specialties still male-dominated.
Today only 4% of board-certified orthopedic surgeons are women. Dr. Sheryl Handler at Akron Children’s Hospital is among that select group.
Wanting to increase her strength and endurance, the petite, 5-foot, 4-inch orthopedic surgeon enrolled in an online workout community 3 years ago. As a busy doctor and mother of 3, the online support group helps her stay committed to daily workouts and better eating habits.
“I decided I really wanted to get into better shape,” said Dr. Handler, who practices at the Akron Children’s Hospital Specialty Care office in Boardman. “I didn’t have weight problems, but I just didn’t like how I looked and felt. I wanted to be stronger and feel more energized. I wanted to do it for me, but also for my family and really my patients too.”
She’s now skipping the gym in favor of weights and online videos in her basement, coupled with daily group check-ins on Facebook that always include a “sweaty selfie.”
Her Facebook group includes women from across the country. They draw support from one another, not just about exercise, but also about the ups and downs of life that can come with balancing work, family and fitness.
Most days, Dr. Handler fits in her workouts either late at night after she puts her kids to bed or early in the morning (5:15 a.m. workouts are not unusual), doing 25- to 45-minute streaming workouts.
The program includes various workouts of different durations, some lasting over 3 months and concentrating on cardio, while others are all about building muscle.
Dr. Handler credits the program with helping her shed 20 pounds in the first 4 months and keeping it off. It’s also made her marathon surgery days, sometimes stretching over 6 hours for complex cases, easier.
“With orthopedic surgery it really takes a lot of sheer muscle sometimes to realign the bones,” said Dr. Handler. “But you need good grip strength too – even when you’re working with small patients. For example, you use your thumbs to lever the bone back into place.”
Along with the exertion that comes from performing orthopedic surgery, Dr. Handler often needs to wear an 8-pound lead apron that adds to the strain over the hours. Coupled with the bright surgical lights and the operating room temperature (which is kept extra toasty for the comfort of young patients), Dr. Handler comes out drenched with sweat.
“Just being in the OR is strenuous,” said Dr. Handler. “That’s been one of the real benefits of being in better shape – I’m not totally exhausted.”
Dr. Handler’s exercise regime was featured in The Wall Street Journal’s “What’s Your Workout” column on Jan. 7. The frequent column has featured the likes Olympic skier Billy Demong, former NFL player Shannon Sharpe and Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles, to name just a few.