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Study finds that field of surgery needs to be made more appealing for female medical students

By Surgical Tribune
April 30, 2019

DUBLIN, Ireland: A greater number of female medical students felt discouraged in their training than their male counterparts, according to a new study, carried out by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). It was based on 464 questionnaires that were completed by medical students in Dublin and Malaysia.

“Achieving gender parity is vital for the future of all medical specialities, especially surgery. Female medical students are a particularly important group to consider on the quest to achieve gender balance within the speciality,” said lead-author Dr Ciara Cronin.

The study reported that 15.8 percent male students never suffered any intimidation compared to a mere 6.9 per cent female students. It also brought out that a third of male students never felt discouraged.

During the study, 464 medical students filled the questionnaire, out of which 40 per cent were male while 60 per cent were females.

The study also looked at, that male and female medical students were similar in terms of interest in a career in surgery – with 46.5 percent of males and 42.6 percent of females very or quite interested in a career in surgery.

“We have shown that a high percentage of students will have decided on their career path before they have graduated, often having been influenced by role models along the way,” said Cronin.

She further added, “Greater female participation in surgical careers may normalise work plans that include job sharing, parental leave and career breaks enabling a greater number of both male and female surgeons to successfully combine a surgical career with social and family responsibilities.” The study also looked at some factors that motivated female students when choosing a medical field or their career.

The factors that mattered most for female students were part-time work, parental leave, working hours and length of residency. Male students were significantly more influenced by salary than females towards a choice of surgical career.

“According to our study, preference for a career in surgery declines with advancing years in medical school for both males and females. Medical students report high levels of feeling intimidated or ignored during their surgical placements, and enthusiasm for surgery reduces during medical school with exposure to this,” said Prof. Peter Gillen, associate professor of surgery at RCSI.

“These findings, along with the importance of role modelling, add further urgency to the need to address factors which make surgery less appealing to female medical graduates,” he added.

“The progress report identified an imperative that more is done to inform and encourage female medical students considering a career in surgery,” said Prof. Deborah McNamara, Consultant Surgeon at RCSI.

The study, titled "Are we repeating what we sow? Gender diversity in surgery: a survey of medical students", was published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.

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