Surgery is not just struggling to recruit women – there has been a decline in the popularity of surgery among medical students in general. Luckily it seems that even brief and easy to organise interventions can make a difference. Rosemary Kozar and colleagues report on such an intervention in a short and interesting paper.
In their intervention, first year medical students listened to a panel of surgeons speak about their career satisfaction and lifestyle. The authors found that this did indeed change the perception of surgery. For example, the length of training was seen as less deterring after the intervention.
This study indicates that interest in different sub-disciplines of medicine might often be based on stereotypes and prejudices and that it is important for surgeons to be proactive and share their experiences with the next generation of doctors.
Surgery is not the only discipline struggling to increase its number of women and while there are certainly differences in the reasons why girls lack interest in surgery compared to other disciplines such as engineering or physics, we can still learn from successful attempts to recruit more women into areas in which they are under-represented.
Robogals is an organisation that aims at increasing the number of women in engineering by showing young girls what engineering actually is and why it is fun. In her short and inspiring Tedx talk, Robogals founder Marita Cheng talks about how to spark interest in young minds – something that surgery could certainly benefit from as well.
Click here to check out her talk.
As mentioned in a number of our recent posts, women still confront more hurdles in their surgical careers than their male counterparts. Here is some advice from some women in surgery on how to deal with these hurdles:
“You got to believe in yourself. And I think that is something that women in surgery are generally really bad at. And I think we suffer more from performance anxiety than many of our male counterparts do. I look at most of the women I know in surgery and most of them are at or above the level of their male counterparts. I think women have to be that little bit better to get on throughout their training. But I think [they] just [need] to believe that they can do it.”
“Both between girls and boys – you need to have buddies throughout training and I guess as a twin I had a buddy right from day one revising through A-levels and things, and through medical school revising with people. And I guess I’ve always found someone to always talk to which has suited me well, whether it is a boy to talk to or a girl to talk to. And maybe that’s sort of the quality of a female if you like to be able to talk through a problem and happier talking through something to get through a solution. But that sort of worked for me so far.”
“Actually, the bad times that you have through training are really kind of where some of the more inspirational people that I’ve met have come into my life and people that have seen that perhaps you’ve had a hard time. I’ve been quite humbled by some of the people who have actually come along and pick you up and go ‘No, you are good enough to do this. We really want you to do this. We think that you’re good enough and we want you as a colleague.’ That can be pretty amazing.”
Surgery is a challenging career path for everyone, but what makes it apparently more challenging for women? What obstacles are in their paths that men don’t have to overcome? A study by Amalia Cochran and colleagues investigated this question by asking men and women at the end of their surgical training or at the beginning of their surgical career about a number of potential obstacles such as sex discrimination, lack of confidence, conflict between children and career demands and job market constraints.
While both female and male participants reported similar levels of structural barriers and career preparation, women reported that they anticipated or perceived to be treated differently from men, including negative comments about their sex. Female participants also mentioned having children as a career barrier.
These results are perhaps not surprising. However, they illustrate once more the importance of addressing gender inequality in surgery on many levels – from helping women with children to achieve a good work-life-balance to fostering a more egalitarian work environment in general.