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To be or not to be…
  1. Fiona E Karet Frankl
  1. Correspondence to Professor Fiona E Karet Frankl, Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, Cambridge Biomedical Campus Box 139, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0XY, UK; fek1000{at}

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Last year, at their request, I ran a session with a group of medical students who wanted to discuss potential career choices including craft specialties and clinical academia. I was dismayed when a female student recounted how she had been advised by a senior male surgeon not to choose a career in surgery—“surely you will want to have a family?” he asked. I have since heard almost identical stories from colleagues in several other medical schools, even including a similar conversation reported by a first year preclinical student.

In PMJ, Hui-Ling Kerr and colleagues have added some new data to the well-accepted body of evidence that women are less likely to choose a career in surgery than are their male equivalents.1 The Royal College of Surgeons’ (RCS) most recent statistics indicate that in 2014, while 30% of surgical trainees were women, this figure translated into only 11% of consultants. That said, the figure has risen from just 3% in 2001.2 There is variability among subspecialties—for example fewer than 7% of neurosurgeons are women, compared with just over 26% in paediatric surgery.

The results from Kerr et al's questionnaire, while involving only a small subject set, add further colour to a much larger canvas: that of problems with recruitment and retention of women across all science, technology, …

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