In order to understand why women do or do not go into surgery, it is important to understand what motivates medical students to go into surgery in general. A questionnaire study by Glynn and Kerin from 2010 looked at just that.
Overall, about 20% of respondents said that they would like a career in surgery. Interestingly, this was true regardless of gender. However, when asked about whether it was likely for them to actually end up in surgery, the number dropped to 13% and was significantly higher for men than women. The most important factors that influenced planning to go into surgery were employment, career opportunities and intellectual challenge. Moreover, prestige was an important factor for those who could see themselves becoming surgeons. Medical students who highly valued their lifestyle during training, on the other hand, were less likely to indicate an interest in a future career in surgery.
But what about women in particular? Well, the authors found that on-call schedules, patient relationships and lifestyle after training were more important for female compared to male medical students. Also, for medical students with medical family backgrounds gender mattered more than for those who did not come from medical families. This is interesting, as it points to the fact that family members might not only work as positive role models who show what is possible, but can rather also strengthen existing gender stereotypes in medicine.