Women surgeons have seriously considered leaving their practice after getting married and childbirth. More saddening is that they advised younger colleagues against a career in surgery.
Women constitute half of the medical school graduates but they remain underrepresented in the field. They merely constitute 40 percent of general surgeons and 18 percent of faculty members in the medical institutions in the United States according to a recent study.
This is because women are more inclined to give up practice. This reaction is due to the dissuasion they received from fellow surgeons and the negative reactions they received from colleagues after getting married or getting pregnant.
Discouraging Women From Practicing General Surgery
The Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital surveyed 347 general surgery residents. The participants have had one or more pregnancies during residency.
Out of those surveyed, 39 percent seriously considered leaving residency while 30 percent admitted having advised other female medical students against pursuing a career in general surgery.
The study also showed that 75 percent encountered negative comments regarding pregnant trainees or those who are considering childbirth. Sixty percent observed a negative stigma with being pregnant as surgical resident while over half felt compelled to delay their pregnancies during nonclinical time.
While two-thirds recognized that their work schedule can affect their health or the health of their unborn child, 86 percent were still compelled to retain their original schedule. This was because their colleagues and supervisors reacted negatively to their requests for a less demanding shift.
The study, which was published in JAMA Surgery, also revealed that female trainees lack mentorship on balancing career with motherhood.
The study becomes the first to look into the situation of pregnant surgeon trainees on a national level.
Pregnancy And Marriage In The Medical Field
Even if surgeon trainees successfully gave birth, their workplace remains inadequate in meeting their needs. Most of their headquarters lack facility for breastfeeding mothers and did not offer child care options.
Erika Rangel, MD, MS, lead study author and a surgeon and researcher in the division of trauma, burn, and surgical critical care at BWH, now calls for relevant authorities to invest in education and retention of women surgeons.
This recommendation is echoed by Gerard Doherty, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at BWH. He calls for the development of progressive employment policies that will guarantee that the most prepared surgeons are kept in the field.
Since the results of the survey were published, the Department of Surgery at BWH has been working to create reasonable adjustment with their work policy. Douglas Smink, MD, surgical residency program director and co-author on the manuscript has since been facilitating discussions on gender equality.
The American Board Of Surgery has been conducting a review of their maternity leave policy. Additionally, The Association of Program Directors in Surgery has scheduled a meeting in May to discuss improvements on training programs for pregnant residents.