Some More Advice for Future Surgeons

After a positive response to our first post about advice to future surgeons, we have put together another selection of quotes from people working in surgery, which we hope you will find helpful.

“You need to be hard-working, dedicated. You don’t need to be particularly academic or into research, you just need to work hard and be prepared to put the hours in. If you are, then you’ll get far. You have to have a balance of work and life and you will have to make sacrifices. If you are prepared to do that, then it will be fine – and it is definitely worth it. I can’t imagine doing anything else and I don’t want to do anything else, so I’m quite happy to make a sacrifice here and there. When you are a more junior trainee, it is a little bit more difficult with the hours that you have to work, but as you get a bit more senior… I’ve found that I have a great work-life-balance. I still go on holidays, I still go out with my friends all the time. I just watch less TV, so I can get my work done during the week and then have fun on the weekends.”

“It is not an instant glorification career. It’s a marathon run rather than a sprint. It’s not glamorous on a day-to-day basis like you see portrayed on television, but it is doable and workable and if you are prepared to put in the hard work, it is a very rewarding career to have.”

“It is a lifestyle choice, but it is a lifestyle choice I knew I was getting into and I absolutely love it and there is nothing like the buzz you can get when you have done something and you have done it well.  So how do you get a good work-life-balance? I think you have to have really understanding friends and really understanding family and you have to be really organized. People say ‘Oh, I bet you don’t get to do very much’, but actually I think I do more because I plan everything meticulously, so in my spare time I actually do something all the time and I am making time for people. I think it is easy. I do have lots of hobbies. If you want to fit stuff in, you just do it.”

The Gender Pay Gap and the Romance of Leadership

The situation for women in the workplace has improved significantly over the last decades. Nevertheless, there are still a number of issues that women in the workplace face, especially when being under-represented, for example in leadership positions or male-dominated fields such as surgery. One of these issues is the gender pay gap, the fact that women earn less than men for the same work. Interestingly, this gap becomes wider as one rises up the corporate ladder. But why? We’ve asked ourselves this question and examined gender differences related to the so called “romance of leadership” as a potential explanation.

The “romance of leadership” refers to the fact that company performance is largely seen as a result of personal characteristics of the manager rather than situational factors such as the general economic situation. Thus, managers get rewarded for company success and punished for failure. However, this phenomenon does not apply to women to the degree that it applies to men, presumably because, according to gender stereotypes, men are seen as more agentic (i.e. competent and effective in their actions) than women. In line with these stereotypes it makes sense to think that they influence success and failure more significantly, which is then reflected in pay differences.

Testing these ideas, Clara Kulich, Michelle Ryan and Alexander Haslam found that romance of leadership processes are indeed likely to play a role. In their study, participants were told about the performance of a company before and after the appointment of a new CEO, who was either male or female. Additionally, company performance was either described as improving or declining. Participants were then asked to allocate a performance-based bonus to the new CEO. In line with the “romance of leadership”, this bonus was higher when company performance improved following the CEO’s appointment. However, this effect was only apparent for male CEOs. Female CEO bonuses did not differ depending on company performance, suggesting that participants did not see them as the source of said performance.

This clearly shows that the gender pay gap is not a result of a lack of ability on the women’s side (and should not be seen as such!) but is rather based in gender stereotypes – which can be and hopefully will be overcome.

Why Surgery?

Surgery is a demanding career, but it is also very exciting and rewarding. But what attracts people to the career initially? Why do they choose surgery and not something else? Here are only a few examples of why people have chosen a surgical career:

“I have to admit that when I chose medical studies I was very young and maybe I wasn’t thinking about becoming a surgeon, not at the beginning. But I think what drove me there is the possibility to work with people, to talk to them, to support them and then over the years I realised that surgery was the best option to do that.”

“I knew from about the age of sixteen, when I first did anatomy in school, that I really liked this subject. So throughout medical school I was trying to see whether I did still enjoy that sort of thing on a day-to-day basis and actually in a hospital – which I did. But I guess a further moment that confirmed it was a medical student I was asked to participate in an operation and I really enjoyed the whole feel of my hands inside the warm abdominal cavity and I thought to myself ‘this is definitely what I want to do’.”

“When I got to medical school I sort of realised that I was surrounded by people who wanted to be doctors and wanted to help people and were very nice. And there was a bit of the feeling that I didn’t quite fit in. I mean, I do want to help people, but I wanted to actually fix something that needed fixing rather than just talk about it all the time. And when we went into the anatomy room which we did after first couple of weeks – it was the ability to open up, see that there is a problem and physically take it out or fix it or mend it and then sew the person back up again. It just fitted exactly with what I wanted to do.”

“I think I was inspired by a distant relative, to be honest. I’m from a very different background, I think. I think it’s changing now, that you have people from working class backgrounds. My mother was a single parent and I wasn’t connected to lots of family members but this distant family member was a cardiothoracic surgeon and I was really inspired by that – how do you transplant a heart and keep the body alive etc. And I think is persona inspired me more than anything.”


What Makes a Good Role Model in Surgery?

We have addressed the importance of role models in previous posts (here and here). A study by Ravindra and Fitzgerald points once again at the importance of role models for becoming a surgeon. But what makes a good role model in surgery? The authors asked newly qualified graduates from a UK medical school just that and grouped the free text answers by theme.

Overall, the most important qualities mentioned by participants were being a good teacher, showing enthusiasm, being student-focused and being approachable. When grouped into attributes relating to different aspects of being a surgeon (i.e. role as a teacher, clinician, a supervisor and a person), results showed that with regards to being a teacher, the most important attributes (other than being a “good teacher” in general) cited were being student-focused, knowledgeable and patient. As a clinician, participants mentioned being caring and competent as well as good communication skills as key characteristics. Important attributes as a supervisor were “approachable”, “encouraging” and “leader” and lastly, personal attributes included “enthusiastic”, “confident” and “friendly”.

Interestingly, these attributes didn’t vary much by gender, suggesting that male and female medical students are looking for the same qualities in role models. That being said, there were gender differences in the importance of a good work-life-balance of the role model (this was perceived as being more important by women) and being encouraging (this was perceived as more important by men).