Author: Imaan Tahir
Surgery continues to be the one of the most lucrative specialties among doctors, but women make up less than one-quarter of 10 surgical specialties according to the AAMC. Although, in recent years the percentage of females enrolled in medical school is more than half which will hopefully decrease the gender gap.
There is by no means a shortage in the number of women taking a path that could lead to surgery, but those who do actually end up earning consistently less than their male counterparts.This is unusual as a recent study among people who had recently considered having a cosmetic surgical procedure done showed that more than a quarter of people had a preference for a female surgeon, while only 1% had a preference for a male surgeon. Following this, in 2018, 92% of cosmetic procedures were performed on women, but only 15% of surgeons performing these types of procedures were women. In a study carried out at a hospital in Ontario, Canada between 2007 and 2015 involving 104,630 patients and 3,314 surgeons, female surgeons were thought to be more skilled, more competent in following guidelines, and superior at communicating with other staff, researchers said. The study compared outcomes for patients undergoing one of 25 surgical procedures by a female surgeon with those undergoing the same operation, but performed by a man. This begs the question: if female surgeons are more in demand, why are there still so few?
One possible reason for the gender disparity in this sector could be that the practice of surgery, with its long hours and strenuous physical demands, interferes with women’s domestic lives. Statistics from the RCS from 2016 show us that women outnumber men when applying to study medical degrees (58%), but this does not necessarily translate to the number of women choosing to go on to have a career in surgery. This leads us to the conclusion that many women ultimately are discouraged from a career as a surgeon because of the career lifestyle possibly being too demanding and unsustainable considering the other aspects of their lives, leading them to choose a sector with more flexible hours, such as paediatrics, which has the highest percentage of female consultants. A recent study carried out by Harvard Medical School showed that 42% of female medical students felt deterred from becoming a surgeon due to concerns about the amount of time they had for relationships and children, and even being too old after residency to be able to have a child. Another commonly cited reason is simply the lack of female role models. Surgery has traditionally been considered as a "boys’ club", and the common stereotype of most females going into "softer" specialties such as paediatrics and family medicine has certainly not helped to change that. The pervasive lack of gender inclusivity in the surgical specialty has fueled discouragement amongst women hoping to into surgical specialties, with 69% of all medical students and 75% of medical students actively pursuing surgery reporting having received verbal discouragement from pursuing a medical career.
With the evidence showing a strong demand for female surgeons and attitudes towards women
in surgery gradually beginning to change, there is hope that the female under-representation in
surgery could start to diminish.