Why Medical Students Choose Surgery – And Why They Don’t

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.

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.”