Despite accounting for a third of all physicians, women are underrepresented in surgery, especially at the very highest level. There are only 16 women who are the heads of surgical departments in the U.S. and Canada, and only 8 percent of full professors in surgery are women.

Sareh Parangi is a practicing thyroid cancer surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. Thyroid cancer is relatively uncommon—the American Cancer Society predicts that there will only be 62,450 new cases in 2016—and it’s very treatable. It disproportionately affects women. I spoke with Parangi about the stress of the operating room, why surgery is one of the most respected professions, and what it takes for female surgeons to advance in their careers. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.