Background: Positive encounters with surgeons have previously been shown to influence perceptions of surgical careers. Despite this, negative perceptions persist. We investigated whether identifying role models in surgery influences career choice and defined the ideal qualities of a surgical role model as perceived by newly qualified doctors.
Methods: A 36-item questionnaire was distributed to newly qualified graduates from a large UK medical school. Results were analysed using GraphPad Prism 5.00.
Results: Questionnaires were returned by 208 of 320 graduates (65%). Median age was 24 years (range = 23-51); 63% female, 37% male; 71% standard undergraduate course, 28% graduate-entry course. Overall, 131 respondents (63%) felt they were able to identify a surgical role model; there were no statistically significant differences between gender or course type. There was a significant difference between identification of a surgical role model and interest in pursuing surgical careers (P = 0.0006), with 41% of those who identified a role model interested compared with 17% of those who did not. Overall, 564 key qualities for a surgical role model were suggested by respondents. These were grouped by theme, with common attributes including good teacher, enthusiastic, and approachable.
Conclusions: Junior doctors were twice as likely to express interest in pursuing a surgical career if they identified a positive surgical role model. Changes in medical school demographics are occurring, with increasing proportions of female and graduate-entry doctors. These groups are less likely to choose a surgical career, so promoting interest in surgery will become increasingly important to maintain high-quality applicants. Defining and promoting perceptions of surgical role models to the wider surgical community may be one way of addressing this.