Med students lose interest in surgery over time

Females more likely to report intimidation
  • Deborah Condon

Female medical students experience higher rates of intimidation during their surgical training than male students, a new study has found.

The study was 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. Almost 40% of the respondents were male, while 60% were female.

The findings revealed that female students were more likely to have reported feeling intimidated during their surgical attachments than male students.

Overall, 15.8% of male students said they had never felt intimidated during their surgical attachments, compared to just 6.9% of female students.

The study found that while male and female students had a similar interest in a career in surgery at the outset, ‘preference for a career in surgery declines with advancing years in medical school for both males and females'.

It also found that the lack of role models in surgery is seen as a major drawback by 22% of female students, compared to just 9% of male students.

"Achieving gender parity is vital for the future of all medical specialties, especially surgery. Female medical students are a particularly important group to consider on the quest to achieve gender balance within the specialty.

"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," explained the study's lead author, Dr Ciara Cronin, of the RCSI Department of Surgery.

She noted that greater participation in surgical careers by women ‘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'.

Meanwhile, the study also looked at the motivating factors that can influence students when choosing whether to pursue a career in surgery. It found that males students were much more influenced by salary when it came to choosing a surgical career.

Female students were much more influenced in their choice of surgical career by part-time work, parental leave, working hours and length of residency.

"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 modeling, add further urgency to the need to address factors which make surgery less appealing to female medical graduates," commented Prof Peter Gillen of the RCSI.

Details of these findings are published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal.


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