Are we reaping what we sow? Gender diversity in surgery: a survey of medical students

Cronin, Ciara, Lucas, Mairi, McCarthy, Andrea, Boland, Fiona, Varadarajan, Raghu, Premnath, N and Gillen, Peter (2019) Are we reaping what we sow? Gender diversity in surgery: a survey of medical students. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 95 (1121). pp. 119-124. ISSN 0032-5473



A survey of medical students from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) at Dublin, Perdana and Penang in Malaysia was undertaken in an attempt to explore attitudes towards a career in surgery and document potential differences between male and female students’ perceptions of a surgical career.

A hyperlink to an online, anonymised questionnaire was distributed to medical students in 3rd, 4th and final year at three RCSI campuses. Basic descriptive statistics were used to describe the responses to individual questions and appropriate statistical tests used to compare male and female responses to questions.

A total of 464 completed questionnaires were analysed. Almost 40% (n=185) were male and 60% (n=279) were female. Males were significantly more influenced by remuneration than females (p<0.001) towards a choice of surgical career. Females were significantly more influenced in their choice of surgical career by part-time work (p<0.001), parental leave (p<0.001), working hours (p<0.001) and length of residency (p=0.003). During surgical attachments, females were significantly more likely to admit feeling intimidated than males (p=0.002) and males more likely to report feeling confident (p<0.001). Ninety-six per cent of students felt they would be more likely to pursue a career in which they had identified a positive role model, with female medical students three times more likely to have identified a female role model than males.

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. 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.

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