How Do Newly Qualified Graduates Perceive Surgery?

Misogyny, a bad work-life balance, the “old boys’ club” – there is a long list of reasons cited for the lack of women in surgery. However, a recent study conducted in the UK by Edward Fitzgerald from the University of Nottingham and his colleagues (which, by the way, also mentions WinS!) suggests that the main reason lies somewhere else: Women just seem to be uninterested in surgery itself.

In their study they gave out surveys to female and male newly qualified graduates from the University of Nottingham Medical School asking about interest in a career in surgery as well as reasons for this. Not surprisingly, men generally reported more interest in surgery than women (42% vs. 25%). The number one reason for this was a lack of interest in surgery itself. This was, however, followed by negative attitudes towards women in the field.  The latter reason was backed up by the fact that 59% of male and 68% of female participants believed that surgery was not a career that was welcoming to women. When asked the open question why this was the case, the fact that surgery was male-dominated was the number one reason cited, followed by the difficulty of maintaining a family life and limited flexible training opportunities.

This study shows that even among newly qualified female graduates, the perception of surgery remains stubbornly stereotypical masculine and unattractive for women. It is therefore not just a matter of time until more and more women will enter surgery – it remains important to show women in medical schools that surgery is not just for men and that it is an exciting and welcoming place to work.

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4 thoughts on “How Do Newly Qualified Graduates Perceive Surgery?

  1. i am currently in second year of medical school and want to pursue surgery as my career after i graduate. however, i am concerned whenever i read such types of comments like ‘its hard to do surgery and maintain a family life’ i feel my surgical career will be left midway if i go into surgery:/…
    p.S: i REALLY do want to become a surgeon 😦 but it seems impossible.

    • Thank you for your comment. Of course we understand that hearing about the difficulties that some women can have can seem daunting. However, surgery is a wonderful career (whether you are a man or woman), and you absolutely should pursue it! If you show determination and are willing to work hard, then you are very likely to succeed. What these posts emphasize is that it is important to get support from those around you (women as well as men), as this will make your journey much easier and more enjoyable. The other thing to remember is that MOST careers have challenges and involve sacrifice – surgery is not different in this regard. Finally, we believe that being forewarned is forearmed! You should speak to as many surgeons as you can and get as much experience as you can while you are studying; if you know what the challenges are and how to surmount them then you are much more likely to succeed! Can I suggest that you watch the women in surgery vodcast on this blog if you haven’t already – the surgeons in it provide very valuable advice.

  2. I think the stereotypical perception is not helped by the experiences of female medical students on their surgical placements. This ‘dogma’ of ‘surgery isn’t for women’ is still propagated widely by some health care professionals, as well as allied members, whether they have proof for it or not. Fortunately, I have noticed that Consultant surgeons themselves (at least the ones I have met) have been very welcoming and encouraging, and it is trickling down the levels. However, the same cannot yet be said of other Specialties, who Medical students will of course be in contact with during placements. The words and encouragement of a surgical team, and the excitement of the theatre can get easily dampened by the well-meaning but ill-informed, and unwanted advice of non-surgeons. I think as well as increasing the profile of women in surgery as a real option among medical students, we should also aim to improve the attitudes of the allied professionals, because as medical students we can’t always argue against those we perceive as having more experience than us, even if we are better informed.

  3. Hi Amira. This is a very good point. We have heard a number of stories of women who say that they have been discouraged by non-surgeons (often friends and family) who tell them that (as women) they should not pursue surgery – unless they are happy to sacrifice a family and well-balanced life. I guess this points to the pernicious impact of stereotypes; they can be reinforced by apparently well meaning people. As you say, educational efforts need to spread more widely, otherwise women find themselves in the exhausting position of having to justify their decisions to everyone.

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