More on Work-Life-Balance in Surgery

Juggling a successful career in surgery and your life outside of work can be challenging. However, it is not impossible. Here is what those working in surgery have to say about their work-life-balance:

“My children strike my work-life-balance for me. So the best thing I could have done for a work-life-balance is have a family, so that I know that I have to go home. And as soon as I open that front door, unless there is a major catastrophe at work, it all just completely melts away. And suddenly it’s geography homework or parents evening or I haven’t got anything to wear for Phoebe’s party on Friday and neurosurgery becomes a distant memory until the next day starts.”

“What do I enjoy doing? Cooking and having people over for dinner. Being a hostess as well as going out for dinner. And sort of de-stressing by that. I go to the gym, I get whipped into shape by my twin sister and try to go swimming and that sort of thing. I do enjoy spending time with the children and getting dragged to lighthouses and Roman forts by my husband. So I definitely do enjoy the time with the children and the family because it sort of keeps you sane. Work is one thing, but you have to sort of counterbalance that.”

“I’m catholic so I’m quite involved with my church and I am part of a couple of groups and we meet monthly, so that is a big part of my life. And I really like singing, particularly in groups, so I’m well known for dragging unwilling people to piano bars in whatever city we’re in for our research.”


If you want some more advice on this issue, check out our previous post on the topic.

Climbing the Surgical Career Ladder as a Woman

While women are under-represented in surgery in general, this under-representation is even more pronounced among surgical leaders. Nevertheless, there are women who have made it to the top of the surgical career ladder. How did they do it and what can we learn from them?

Rena Kass and colleagues can give us some answers. They interviewed ten female surgical leaders and asked them about barriers for women in surgery and how to overcome them. Almost all participants mentioned overt discrimination as a major barrier. For example, one participant explained:

“I would go on interviews and people would ask ‘What makes you think that you can tell a group of … mostly male surgeons, what to do and that they are going to listen to you?’ They would phrase it in various ways but … they were all really asking ‘Look, you’re a woman, you’re soft spoken, you don’t look like what we expect, what makes you think … you can come here and run the place?”

Other obstacles mentioned included the lack of effective mentors, a hostile work environment and personal illness.

So what do you need to overcome these barriers and make it to the top? The majority of participants mentioned perseverance and resilience as one of the most important attributes necessary to overcome barriers. As one of them put it:

“perseverance and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. When I was in high school the guidance counselor told me that women did not become doctors … then, when I did not get into medical school, the pre-med advisor … said ‘why don’t you just settle down and be an engineer?’ I said no, I want to be a doctor … I reapplied and got in. When I got out of my training and didn’t have any publications, my chairman said, ‘it’s going to be an uphill battle, being an academic surgeon’. I said, well that’s what I want to be. So I would say … the thing that distinguishes the ones who make it through to the end is perseverance, desire, and drive.”

Other important attributes included being hard-working and passionate, having a good support structure and communication skills.

BMA comments on our research; a rebuttal to Prof. Thomas

The BMA has written an interesting article on our recent research, and has solicited comments from BMA equality and diversity committee chair Krishna Kasaraneni and the President of the RCS Norman Williams.

In the same article, there is a very strong rebuttal of Professor J Meirion Thomas’s recent controversial article on the feminisation of the NHS by Mr Williams. You can read this in more detail here:


And Yet Some More Advice for Future Surgeons

Getting into surgery can seem a bit scary, especially if you are not 100% sure what you are getting into. Luckily there are people who have gone through it before you. Here is some advice they have to share about building your skill set and keeping your eye on the goal:

“What I’d say to a medical student or a junior doctor is that they have to be very flexible in their approach to the work. They have to have an interest in a variety of things. It’s not just the actual subject content that you should be interested in. There are so many facets to medicine these days which are very much different from what they were so you have to have a teaching role, a political role, a research role and a sort of general knowledge role so you actually get to know your patient, to understand communities, to understand disease processes

“I think for someone considering a career in surgery they have to realise, first and foremost, it is a very competitive field out there. And they have to understand that to be part of the game they have to get ready and prepared and know what they need to do to deliver to be part of the game. So building a portfolio is essential and if they can try to do that at medical school level that is so important. So publishing, presenting, going to meetings, (…) – really it’s just understanding that you need to know what skills you need before you actually embark on a surgical career. And to understand whether you are going to be able to cope with the challenges which are changing all the time.”

“Look at the job at the end of it rather than just the training. Often people can’t relate to the people who have the job at the end of it because we are older, but they need to look at the job and whether that is something that they want to do. And if they want to do it, they’ve got to be the best. They’ve got to try to work hard on all different levels. It’s not just operating or getting through the exams. It’s things like teaching, leadership, research. It’s all the other things you need on your CV.  (…) You do need to have your CV be as good as it can possibly and take opportunities.”

“The consultant job is good. The consultant job is actually fun and doable. I don’t do private practice, I’ve got loads of time. I collect my youngest daughter from school twice a week. It’s fun. You don’t operate at night anymore. Lots of that sort of thing has changed. We just need to get the women through the training.”


If you’d like to read more advice, you can also check out our previous posts on the topic by clicking here and here.

Gender differences emerge during surgical training

We recently presented a paper of our latest research into the experiences of UK male and female surgical trainees at the BPS conference (Division of Organisational Psychology) in Brighton.

Our analysis shows that male and female trainees show very few differences when they first embark on training (in terms of perceptions of fitting in with surgeons, identification with surgeons and a desire to pursue another occupation). However, over time, women come to report less favourable levels of these variables than their male colleagues. This supports our claims that the very masculine surgical environment may subtly harm women’s motivations to pursue a career in surgery.

We also found that women felt that they are performing more poorly than their male colleagues; importantly, the objective data that we collected shows that this is not correct. In other words, women progress through their training just as fast as men do, and perform just as well.

You can find more information about our research here:

The Importance of Role Models in Medical Education

Role models are important for a number of reasons. Not only can they teach us important skills, they can inspire us to reach for more ambitious goals or consider a new career path altogether as well. In medical education, they have also been linked to speciality choice, making them especially interesting with regards to the under-representation of women in surgery.

But what are medical students looking for in a role model? Who do they choose as that inspiration that might influence their career path so strongly? A study by Wright an colleagues suggests that it is not necessarily status or success, but that other attributes such as personality and competence might be more important. They also showed that role model choice was indeed related to speciality choice and that students generally chose their role model before they had made up their mind about their future speciality. This highlights, again, how important role models are for shaping our future. With regards to surgery, this may be somewhat problematic – only 63% of participants indicated that they had encountered a sufficient number of role models from that discipline (compared to an average of 87% in the other specialities). And – although the authors don’t report on it – this number is likely to be even lower for women who generally prefer female role models.

By the way, we have also discussed role models in surgery in particular before. Click here to read that post.