Trailblazers in Urology: The Legacy of Drs. Eila Skinner and Claire Burton on International Women's Day 2024


8 March 2024 | Jennifer M. Taylor, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, USA

As we celebrate International Women's Day 2024, the spotlight shines on the remarkable journey and contributions of Dr. Eila Skinner and her daughter Dr. Claire Burton, marking a monumental shift in the landscape of urology. Pioneers in their field, their story not only reflects the strides made towards gender equity in medicine but also underscores the profound impact of mentorship and legacy in shaping the future of urologic oncology. Join us in exploring the intertwined paths of these two trailblazing women, as they navigate challenges, shatter glass ceilings, and inspire a new generation of physicians in the evolving world of urology.

Breaking Barriers and Building Legacies: A Mother-Daughter Duo's Journey in Urology

By Jennifer M. Taylor, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, USA

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, we reflect on the presence of women as patients in our practices and physicians and other providers in our profession.  We continue to expand the ability to care for female patients with our clinical innovations, and we broaden the diversity and expertise within our specialty with the growth of women in the field.

It is a natural progression for a child to witness a parent in his or her profession, and eventually choose the same path based on that experience and exposure. There are many legacies in urology, with several generations of urologists in the same family.  Up until now, there have been fathers and sons and a few fathers and daughters. Eila Skinner, MD (Stanford University) and Claire (Sadler) Burton, MD (now at City of Hope) represent the first mother and daughter, to my knowledge, to both become urologists. I spoke with them in 2021 to discuss their perspectives from this unique vantage point. 

Eila’s early career
Dr. Eila Skinner was a pioneer as one of a small handful of women to enter urology and to further pursue the subspecialty of urologic oncology. She has since excelled in many arenas, both professional and personal. She has held many leadership positions, including Urology Department Chair at Stanford University since 2012 and member and former president of the Board of Trustees of the American Board of Urology. She has been one of a small number of women to serve at the top of an academic urology department or division, and in fact, she recalled being only the 50th board-certified woman urologist in the United States. She is notably the first woman to receive the Huggins Medal from the Society of Urologic Oncology in 2020, for her academic and clinical achievements. She shared the memory of being the first woman to train in urology at University of Southern California, and the positive mentorship from Dr. Don Skinner throughout her training. She raised three children while continuing to practice full-time and participate in clinical and academic urology. Her first child was born while she was in residency, and she distinctly remembered the encouraging words of Dr. Don Skinner when she informed him of her pregnancy: “What do we need to do to help you?” He too was a trailblazer in his support of all trainees, male or female, as an example of the #HeForShe movement.
As a testament to the supportive culture most of us already associate with our field of urology, Eila does not recall very many instances of overt gender based discrimination or bias in her own training.  But she did attest to conscious efforts to match or surpass her peers’ performance to ensure she maintained her “seat at the table.” This adaptation or effort by women has been well-described in many corporate and high-performing professions.  

From a daughter’s perspective
Eila has blazed a trail over the years and made a positive impression on many students and residents with whom she worked.  Over the course of her practice, she also modeled her practice to her children and they witnessed her patient care and participation in the field.  Dr. Claire Burton described fond memories of Saturday mornings at the hospital nurse’s station, while her mom saw patients, and having her mom present to her elementary school class on being a doctor. She remembers a point in high school when she realized the constant effort her mother made to be a model parent and model clinician. As a hospital volunteer, Claire heard first hand from patients who thought so highly of her mother, and she appreciated more fully the breadth of her mom’s responsibilities. She developed an attraction to medicine, from the very early point of an 8th grade presentation on bladder cancer, but did not enter medicine intending to specialize in urology. She also highlighted several mentors, who were women surgeons, who provided insight and advice when she was an undergrad. As a medical student at USC, she scrubbed in to a urologic surgery (with Dr. Sia Daneshmand) and called her mom afterwards, commenting: “You didn’t tell me how cool this specialty is!”
There can be a great deal of pressure when you follow in a parent’s footsteps, especially in medicine and in a smaller medical specialty, but Claire received universal encouragement from multiple role models who validated her interest in urology. Eila was careful not to present too influential an opinion but was thrilled to see Claire find something she loved. Claire is now matched in female pelvic medicine reconstructive surgery for fellowship and remains delighted in her career choice. Both Eila and Claire recount overwhelmingly positive experiences as women in this field and their example highlights the value of children and aspiring doctors seeing themselves in the role models before them.

Women in urology
As of July 2016, women occupied 2.5% of advanced leadership positions in urology, while women comprised 7.7% of practicing urologists and 26% of training urologists at the same time point [1]. As highlighted in recent publications, the proportion of women in urology continues to increase [2] and women have a growing presence as presenters and content experts at academic meetings [3]. According to the American Urological Association Census 2022 data, 11.6% of the respondents identified as women, confirming a continued increase in representation in the specialty [4]. These articles also illuminate some of the deliberate steps that can promote and support equity in our specialty and its leadership. The achievements of Dr. Skinner were made possible in part through mentorship and sponsorship from both male and female mentors and many leaders in our field today recognize this importance and advocate on behalf of women and other under-represented groups. Many of the leading women in urology who paved the way acknowledge they conformed to male norms at times to advance and succeed, while they now bring their own norms and skills as examples and standards for younger women in subsequent generations. While Eila and Claire may be the first mother-daughter pair in our specialty, they are surely not the last, as more women participate in all aspects and at all levels of our specialty.

With gratitude to Drs. Eila Skinner and Claire Burton for sharing their experiences.

[4] “Practicing Urologists in the United States 2022” at  Census Results - American Urological Association (auanet.org)

About the Author:

Jennifer M. Taylor, MD, MPH, is an Associate Professor of Urology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. She also serves as the Residency Program Director. She currently practices urologic oncology at Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. Dr. Taylor is also involved in clinical research in multiple GU malignancies, with a focus on bladder cancer, and research in medical education.