Dr. Zarina Ali loves the exhilaration she feels when scrubbing into brain or spine surgery knowing she has a chance to make a big difference in life and death situations for her patients. Even with the long hours of razor-sharp focus needed, she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

But as a mother of three children – with another one on the way – she is uniquely qualified as the first female neurosurgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital in Center City to help encourage female medical students to pursue the specialty she enjoys so much.

According to American Board of Neurological Surgery statistics, in the United States there are only 219 board-certified female neurosurgeons, 25 full-time female academic neurosurgeons, and only one female chair of a neurosurgery department. Ali, herself, was one of at most three female doctors in her neurosurgery residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania – with no female mentors to guide them.

Now as an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the nation’s second-oldest hospital, many young female medical students have turned to Ali, 33, for mentorship advice as they confront concerns about a career in neurosurgery, including the demanding work hours, a long training commitment, and worry about having time to start a family.

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