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Are we reaping what we sow? Gender diversity in surgery: a survey of medical students
  1. Ciara Cronin1,
  2. Mairi Lucas1,
  3. Andrea McCarthy1,
  4. Fiona Boland2,
  5. Raghu Varadarajan3,
  6. N Premnath4,
  7. Peter Gillen1
  1. 1 Professorial Unit, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Drogheda, Ireland
  2. 2 HRB Centre for Primary Care Research, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Division of Population Health Sciences, Dublin, Ireland
  3. 3 RCSI—School of Medicine, Perdana University, Serdang, Malaysia
  4. 4 Surgery, RUMC, Penang, Malaysia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Peter Gillen, Professorial Unit, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Drogheda A92 VW28, Ireland; pgillen{at}


Background 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.

Method 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.

Results 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.

Conclusion 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.

  • gender diversity
  • medical students
  • surgical careers

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published. The fifth author's first name has been corrected.

  • Contributors The concept for the study came from PG. The writing of the article was done jointly by PG and CC with data processing and analysis from AMC and ML. Statistical analysis was carried out by FB. RV and NP made ethical committee submissions and pretested the questionnaire in Perdana and Penang Universities, respectively. Ethical approval and pretesting was obtained by PG in Dublin.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical committee approval was attained at each institution—Dublin (Ireland), Perdana and Penang (Malaysia)—before the study commenced.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.