Less than 7% of consultant surgeons in Ireland are women, a new report has revealed.
The report was compiled by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland's (RCSI) Working Group on Gender Diversity. It found that while more than 50% of medical graduates are women, just 34% of surgical trainees, and less than 7% of consultant surgeons, are female.
"If surgery is less appealing to women than to men, we need to know why and remove the obstacles," commented the working group's chairperson, Ms Deborah McNamara, a consultant in general and colorectal surgery at Beaumont Hospital.
She pointed out that there is a ‘striking absence' of female surgeons in senior academic positions. She also noted that there needs to be career structures ‘that enable surgeons to vary the tempo of their professional life during difficult periods'.
"This is a fundamental matter of gender equality, but it is also a question of ensuring we provide the best patient care. There is research evidence suggesting male and female doctors practice differently and that the needs of patients are more likely to be met by a diverse profession," Ms McNamara said.
The working group looked at barriers to recruitment and retention which have led to this gender imbalance. It also made a number of recommendations to help tackle this issue, including:
-the introduction of measures to encourage female medical students considering a career in surgery through better promotion of surgical careers to schools and young women
-Building a culture that supports female surgical trainees, such as via mentoring programmes or improved fellowship options for women
-More consideration of the needs of trainees who are parents to ensure training time is flexible
-Evaluating the wellbeing of trainees who are pregnant
Meanwhile, the working group also recommended the publication of an annual report on gender diversity in surgery, which would record progress in this area as a result of these measures.
The report was welcomed by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris.
"The implementation of its recommendations should make a significant contribution to tackling the barriers to gender equality in surgery. I am delighted to see that RCSI is committed to and actively addressing the current gender imbalance," he commented.
He also announced that the HSE is to begin research shortly into the lived experience of women working in the Irish health service during and post-pregnancy. The aim of this is to establish supports for women to enhance their experience and to help them to fully re-engage with work after pregnancy.
"It is intended initial focus groups will take place over the summer, followed by an online questionnaire in September, and results by November," the Minister said.
Meanwhile, the report was also welcomed by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). It noted that while the medical profession in Ireland is now more diverse than ever, surgical specialties ‘remain very much male dominated at consultant level'.
"There are perceptions that women's skill sets or abilities may not be compatible with or suited to certain specialties, and this report offers important guidance on how such perceptions can be challenged and rectified. Women represent a huge proportion of the medical workforce and the current gender disparity within surgery can no longer be ignored," commented IMO president, Dr Ann Hogan.
The IMO called on all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the report's recommendations ‘are fully considered and embraced' in order to improve female participation in surgery.
The report, Progress: Promoting Gender Equality in Surgery, can be viewed here