Women in Surgery

Uplifting future generations of women in STEMM

15 October 2020

Women compose half of current medical school classes, surgical specialties still struggle to attract and retain women. Female surgeons continue to face gender bias and various obstacles to career advancement, including lower rates of surgical residency completion, board certification, and professional advancement. Opportunities for women in surgery have improved, recruitment of women into surgery is increasing as more women are visible in the specialty.

In the last few decades, with the number of US female medical students now surpassing males. This change is yet to be reflected within the surgical specialty. The number of women in surgery is increasing, but less than one third of surgeons globally are female. Women interested in surgery often face discrimination within medical school, in training programs and in consultancy positions.  

Many factors impact a junior doctor’s choice of specialty, these include an attraction to the work itself, the lifestyle of doctors in that specialty, and the existence of a mentor in that field. Many of these issues have been identified as pushing women away from surgical training. Motherhood is seen as an obstacle, or barrier, to surgical training. Most women that are in surgical training are in the most intensive years of their training at the age where many women are considering having children (ie, 28–35). The idea of taking time off to have children is considered least favorable and those that do are seen as less committed to their training, at the risk of de-skilling, less likely to receive a good training position when they return to the workforce.  Furthermore ideas and stereotypes discouraging women from surgery are the level of physical strength required to be, for example, an orthopedic surgeon, are also often cited as factors.

How can organizations advance women in medicine? Organizations can set goals for women in senior management, require diverse slates for hiring, invest in training, establish clear evaluation criteria, and put more women in line to step up.  Uplifting future generations of women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine) is another important component of creating a women leaders in surgery.

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