Background: Recent years have seen a significant drop in applications to surgical residencies. Existing research has yet to explain how medical students make career decisions. This qualitative study explores students' perceptions of surgery and surgeons, and the influence of stereotypes on career decisions.
Methods: Exploratory questionnaires captured students' perceptions of surgeons and surgery. Questionnaire data informed individual interviews, exploring students' perceptions in depth. Rigorous qualitative interrogation of interviews identified emergent themes from which a cohesive analysis was synthesized.
Results: Respondents held uniform stereotypes of surgeons as self-confident and intimidating; surgery was competitive, masculine, and required sacrifice. To succeed in surgery, students felt they must fit these stereotypes, excluding those unwilling, or who felt unable, to conform. Deviating from the stereotypes required displaying such characteristics to a level exceptional even for surgery; consequently, surgery was neither an attractive nor realistic career option.
Conclusions: Strong stereotypes of surgery deterred students from a surgical career. As a field, surgery must actively engage medical students to encourage participation and dispel negative stereotypes that are damaging recruitment into surgery.
Keywords: Career choice; Careers; Medical students; Recruitment; Stereotypes; Surgical careers.
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