Is the grass greener? A survey of female pediatric surgeons in the United Kingdom

J Pediatr Surg. 2006 Nov;41(11):1879-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2006.06.015.


Background/purpose: Since 1990, at least 50% of UK medical school entrants have been females, although women comprise only 2% of surgical consultants. If women continue to reject surgical careers, recruitment will be limited to a decreasing pool of male applicants. A recent North American study suggested lack of mentorship and role models may be contributory factors. We undertook a survey of UK female pediatric surgeons to ascertain career satisfaction and professional development.

Methods: UK female pediatric surgeons were identified from the British Association of Pediatric Surgeons members' handbook 2004 and via personal communication. Postal or e-mail questionnaires were sent and anonymized responses were analyzed.

Results: Thirty-three questionnaires were distributed to all 16 female consultants (13% of BAPS consultant workforce) and 17 trainees (SpRs [specialist registrars/higher surgical trainees]). Twenty-seven (82%) replies were received. Of 27 (85%) respondents, 23 worked full time; "on-call" commitments range from 1 in 2 (2 consultants) to 1 in 8, with several trainees working shifts. Eighteen (67%) respondents had taken a career break-11 for maternity leave. Twelve (44%) are planning further "time-out," of whom 10 are SpRs. Ninety-three percent are contented with their career and would choose pediatric surgery again. However, 19 (70%) reported factors that had hindered their development, 13 (68%) included insufficient research time, whereas only 3 cited a lack of mentorship.

Conclusions: Female representation in medicine is increasing. In contrast to North American experience, very few UK female pediatric surgeons felt hampered by lack of mentorship or role models. Education and training committees need to work proactively to ensure training programs achieve clinical excellence to continue to attract women into pediatric surgery. For women in the United Kingdom, pediatric surgery challenges will also be met by ensuring healthy "work-life balance," along with flexibility in training and established consultant practice.

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice
  • Career Mobility*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • General Surgery / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Pediatrics
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • United Kingdom
  • Workforce