More on Overcoming Barriers in Surgery

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.”


Overcoming Barriers, Hurdles and Stumbling Blocks

Our last few posts have highlighted some of the barriers women in the workplace in general or in surgery in particular face. However, these barriers are by no means insurmountable. Here is the take of some women in surgery on overcoming these barriers:

“I know when I first started I was like ‘Oh my gosh, there are so many hurdles’, but they’re fun hurdles and they’re hurdles that you do with other people. So I’d say get some good work experience … speak to people who are doing that job day to day, find out what it entails. There have been loads of work experience people coming around recently and you just talk to them and say ‘this is what we do, are you interested in that? Okay, come and watch me do this’. And it gives them a bit of insight into what they are in for and hopefully it inspires a few people that it is not too difficult, that it is achievable.”

“I think WinS is absolutely fundamental to women centred issues around pursuing a surgical career. I’ve been at lots of conferences where we talked about maternity leave, breastfeeding, how do you operate when you’re pregnant… and answered a lot of questions and anxieties that women surgeons have that they just can’t ask in the workplace because there aren’t other women to ask. And also just the practicalities of how you manage pregnancy and how you manage childcare afterwards – there are hundreds of examples in the WinS organisation. They just need to come to our meetings or just tap into it and there is a wealth of information there. And then they go away having come with what seemed to be an insurmountable problem going ‘well, what was all that about? All these ladies made it seem really easy and if they can do it, there is no reason why I can’t do it.’.”

“Babies, pregnancy – how do you operate when you are quite far away from the table? But actually I noticed that some of my male colleagues were the same size already and they didn’t have a baby in them. So I thought ‘well, if they can do it, I can manage it as well’. I remember having a conversation with a male consultant about putting socks on at 35 weeks pregnant. I was having difficulties putting my socks on and he was like ‘yes, I have difficulties with that as well’ and it was a hilarious moment.“

“I think if you feel that things are getting compromised – either on your family side or on your job side then you have to reconsider. Work less and spend more time at home. Or the other way around – if you feel that you are missing out on things and progressions in your career then maybe you should organise more backup from home. In the end, everyone needs to be happy and stay happy – including yourself.”

“It’s a marathon rather than a sprint. It’s not glamorous on a day to day basis at all as it is portrayed on the TV. 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.”