Posted on July 10, 2017

RCSI is implementing a series of measures to encourage more women to become surgeons following the launch of a report today by Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD and RCSI President, Professor John Hyland highlighting a series of barriers to female entry into and progression in surgical careers.


While more than 50% of medical graduates are female, just 34% of surgical trainees are women, while less than 7% of consultant surgeons are women. The report, by a working group established by RCSI, identifies the lack of access for women to high quality surgical fellowships, working conditions during pregnancy and supports available to those returning to work after absence as among the barrier to female progress in the profession.


The report was produced by RCSI’s Working Group on Gender Diversity which reviewed extensive literature in the area, held a national consultation and examined international best practice. According to the chair of the Working Group Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital, “If surgery is less appealing to women than to men, we need to know why and remove the obstacles.


“There is a striking absence of female surgeons in senior academic positions. We also need career structures that enable surgeons to vary the tempo of their professional life during different periods.


“This is a fundamental matter of gender equality but it is also a question of ensuring we provide the best patient care. There is research evidence suggesting male and female doctors practice differently and that the needs of patients are more likely to be met by a diverse profession.” concluded Ms McNamara.


The working group investigated barriers to recruitment and retention which resulted in this gender imbalance. The report strongly recommends the publication of an annual report on gender diversity in surgery, recording the progress being made as a result of these measures in a transparent way.


The Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, said “I welcome the publication of this report today. The implementation of its recommendations should make a significant contribution to tackling the barriers to gender equality in surgery. I am delighted to see that RCSI is committed to and actively addressing the current gender imbalance.”


Speaking before launch RCSI President, Professor John Hyland said “RCSI has been at the forefront of developing selection processes for future surgeons, and we are proud of our tradition of supporting women in surgery that began with the conferring of our first female Fellow Dr Emily Winifred Dickson in 1893. The publication of this report and implementation of the findings demonstrates RCSI’s commitment to addressing this imbalance in the profession.”


“RCSI is a powerful voice in setting standards and influencing surgical culture in Ireland and it must take the lead and show results from this initiative” concluded Professor Hyland.


The key recommendations are:

  • Measures to encourage female medical students considering a career in surgery through better promotion of surgical careers to schools and young women
  • Building a culture supporting female surgical trainees including mentoring and improving fellowship options for women
  • Consideration of the needs of trainees who are parents to ensure training time is flexible and evaluation of trainee wellbeing during pregnancy
  • Encourage diversity through part-time surgical appointment options, specific programmes for female Fellows and research funding ring-fenced for female fellows


The RCSI Equality & Diversity Unit underlines the College’s commitment to nurturing and supporting equality and diversity. This Unit also leads the RCSI Athena Swan Gender Diversity Bronze Award application.


RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.


Download the report by clicking here.


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