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While more than 50 per cent of medical graduates are female, just 34 per cent of surgical trainees are women, while less than 7 per cent of consultant surgeons are women. The report by a working group established by RCSI identifies the lack of access for women to high quality surgical fellowships, working conditions during pregnancy and supports available to those returning to work after absence, as among the barrier to female progress in the profession.
The report was produced by RCSI’s Working Group on Gender Diversity which reviewed extensive literature in the area, held a national consultation and examined international best practice. According to the chair of the Working Group Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin: “If surgery is less appealing to women than to men, we need to know why and remove the obstacles. There is a striking absence of female surgeons in senior academic positions. We also need career structures that enable surgeons to vary the tempo of their professional life during different 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.”
The working group investigated barriers to recruitment and retention which resulted in this gender imbalance. The report strongly recommends the publication of an annual report on gender diversity in surgery, recording the progress being made as a result of these measures in a transparent way.
The key recommendations are:
♣ 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 supporting female surgical trainees including mentoring and improving fellowship options for women
♣ Consideration of the needs of trainees who are parents to ensure training time is flexible and evaluation of trainee wellbeing during pregnancy
♣ Encourage diversity through part-time surgical appointment options, specific programmes for female Fellows and research funding ring-fenced for female fellows
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