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Dr. Allison Rathmann: Honoring the Rare Field of Board-Certified Female Neurosurgeons

Dr. Allison Rathmann is one of only a few hundred board-certified female neurosurgeons in the United States.

Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA) welcomed Dr. Allison Rathmann in 2014. Dr. Rathmann came to us from her pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, Ohio, which was ranked sixth nationally in Neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report.

Women  in Neurosurgery

ANA is fortunate to have Dr. Rathmann, who represents women in the top ranks of a rarefied position. Women represent less some 10% of the neurosurgery residency positions in the U.S. (whereas more than 50% of medical school graduates are women). When she joined ANA, there were around 219 board-certified female neurosurgeons in the country, or 7% of the roughly 3,000 board-certified neurosurgeons. Later figures estimate that only some 265 women have become board-certified neurosurgeons in 50 years.

Rathmann board certified female neurosurgeon

Dr. Rathmann’s Path to Pediatrics

Dr. Rathmann, born in the late 1970s, was raised in Ashland, Kentucky (population 21,506). She always excelled in the sciences and dissecting a cadaver in high school inspired her to study surgery. It was working in a neuroscience lab in medical school that drove her to the specialty field of neurosurgery.

Her parents were always supportive of her aspirations. Dr. Rathmann’s mother, a kindergarten teacher, and her father, who worked for an oil refinery but never attended college, were her early foundation.

“They never really limited me in anything. They always supported me and never doubted what I wanted to do. When it came to school and education, they never let anything get in the way,” says Dr. Rathmann.

And while she never initially saw her talent as being in pediatrics, it was a pivotal event during her training at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey that solidified her decision to work with children. She tells the story below:

“Some of the physicians at Saint Barnabas told me I was good with families and kids. In my fourth year, I came across a little girl patient with a brain tumor. We operated on her many times. She was very stand-offish, afraid of everyone, and wouldn’t allow anyone to touch her. I spent a lot of time with her and her mom.

There was a breakthrough moment when she talked to me, and made me a bracelet. She always wanted me to be the one to do any of the procedures. The breakthrough moment for me was the realization that if I can get through to her, pediatric neurosurgery is for me. By my fifth year, I decided I only wanted to do pediatrics. I went from thinking I didn’t do particularly well with children to reaching this little girl. I’ll never forget her. If I hadn’t met her, I probably wouldn’t have a future in pediatric neurosurgery.”


Dr. Rathmann is specially trained in pediatric endonasal endoscopic neurosurgery. This is an innovative surgical technique used to remove brain tumors and lesions through the nose and nasal passages. A specially designed endoscope provides light and a lens for viewing and transmitting internal images. Highly crafted instruments are used alongside the endoscope for removing the tumor.

A first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics (February 2007) suggested that endoscopic brain surgery had the potential to be safer and often more effective than conventional surgery in children with life-threatening conditions.

Dr. Rathmann is a member of Women in Neurosurgery (WIN). The mission statement of WIN is: To educate, inspire, and encourage women neurosurgeons to realize their professional and personal goals, and to serve neurosurgery in addressing the issues inherent to training and maintaining a diverse and balanced workforce.

Dr. Rathmann concludes, “I feel I’m very lucky because neurosurgery is a very male-driven profession. I’m very fortunate because there are so few women in this field.”

Dr. Rathmann’s Achievement Makes the News

Dr. Allison Rathmann’s success story was featured in Becker’s Orthopedic & Spine Review, a leading resource offering news and analysis on business and legal issues relating to orthopedic and spine practices.

We also congratulate Dr. Allison Rathmann for being the subject of an article published on the front page of the Daily Record.

“…neurosurgery is the crème de la crème. It’s looked upon highly. People say ‘it’s not brain surgery’ for a reason,” says Dr. Rathmann in part.

To read the full article, click here or download the PDF version.

Allison Rathmann Front Page Daily RecordPhotos: courtesy of Allyson Miloscia.