Despite the low number of women in surgery, those who do decide to become surgeons generally report high job satisfaction that does often not differ very much from that of their male counterparts. However, do they achieve their satisfaction in different ways? A study by Nasim Ahmadiyeh and colleagues investigates this issue.
They interviewed a sample of male and female surgeons who were all married and had children using semi-structured interviews and found, among other things, that men and women in surgery did indeed report similar levels of career satisfaction. In addition to that they also did not differ in the degree to which they had made trade-offs between their careers for their personal lives or vice versa. However, when talking about the reasons for their satisfaction and dissatisfaction, men and women differed. While male surgeons mostly named internal job characteristics as reasons for dissatisfaction, female surgeons spoke much more often about a lack of support and lack of credit. Furthermore, women also seem to rely on different strategies for success. They stressed the importance of social networks – professional as well as personal – far more than men did. This, of course, makes sense if they experience a lack of support.
These findings indicate that networking opportunities such as Women in Surgery are indeed very important and beneficial for female surgeons as they address the lack of support experienced by them.
Misogyny, a bad work-life balance, the “old boys’ club” – there is a long list of reasons cited for the lack of women in surgery. However, a recent study conducted in the UK by Edward Fitzgerald from the University of Nottingham and his colleagues (which, by the way, also mentions WinS!) suggests that the main reason lies somewhere else: Women just seem to be uninterested in surgery itself.
In their study they gave out surveys to female and male newly qualified graduates from the University of Nottingham Medical School asking about interest in a career in surgery as well as reasons for this. Not surprisingly, men generally reported more interest in surgery than women (42% vs. 25%). The number one reason for this was a lack of interest in surgery itself. This was, however, followed by negative attitudes towards women in the field. The latter reason was backed up by the fact that 59% of male and 68% of female participants believed that surgery was not a career that was welcoming to women. When asked the open question why this was the case, the fact that surgery was male-dominated was the number one reason cited, followed by the difficulty of maintaining a family life and limited flexible training opportunities.
This study shows that even among newly qualified female graduates, the perception of surgery remains stubbornly stereotypical masculine and unattractive for women. It is therefore not just a matter of time until more and more women will enter surgery – it remains important to show women in medical schools that surgery is not just for men and that it is an exciting and welcoming place to work.