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More women applicants needed to avoid missed opportunities for UK surgery

13 February 2012

Women who apply for surgical training are proportionately more likely to be appointed than men – however, surgery remains a predominately male profession. Given that women make up the majority of those qualifying from medical school, surgery could be missing out on some of the best graduates finds a paper published in the February edition of the Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons.

The paper, ‘Surgical training: still highly competitive but still very male’, written by Mrs Scarlett McNally, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Eastbourne District General Hospital and Chair of Opportunities In Surgery, found that female applicants were statistically more likely to get onto training programmes than men.

The paper analysed all applicants to surgical training in England and Wales over a two year period. It found that, while 29 per cent of applicants to basic surgical training were women, 31 per cent of appointees were female, suggesting women performed better in the application process than men. Women’s success rate was even greater in higher surgical training: in one year (2008) only 16 per cent of applicants were women, making up 22 per cent of appointees.

Mrs Scarlett McNally, said:

“Surgery needs the very best doctors and this means ensuring everything is being done to encourage the widest pool of applicants. Given that the majority of those qualifying from medical school are women, to ensure the best possible surgeons in the future it is essential that a surgical career is seen as an attractive choice to both sexes.”

The paper also reported an attrition rate, with the 25 per cent of the female applicants for basic surgical training dropping to 15 per cent for higher training. It takes five years to train as a doctor and a further ten to train to the level of Consultant surgeon. The paper speculates that the years of postgraduate training coinciding with the years of child-rearing may be a factor in dissuading female doctors from remaining in surgical training. However the NHS does offer supervised structured training, maternity pay and support and the option of part-time training on return.

Surgery remains a profession significantly populated by men. Women account for 55 per cent at medical school but only 7 per cent of consultant surgeons. All surgical specialties are very competitive, with only 9 per cent of applicants securing a training post.

For more information about how to become a surgeon visit the RCS careers site or Women in Surgery group.


Notes to editors:

  • The full text of the article can be found at: Bulletin Number 2, 2012
  • Applicants qualify first as a doctor (commonly aged 24), then do a two year Foundation doctor post, then competitive selection in to two years of core training, followed by competitive selection into 5-8 years of higher specialty training.
  • Trainees’ salary is part-paid from a training budget. It is possible to do “Less Than Full Time” training. Every trainee has an Educational Supervisor who plans his/her training.
  • You can access current and past issues of the RCS Bulletin (RCS news for surgeons) for free through this IngentaConnect link:
  • The Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling surgeons to achieve and maintain the highest standards of surgical practice and patient care. Registered charity number: 212808. For more information please visit
  • If you have any queries please contact:
    Matthew Worrall – Email:; T: 020 7869 6047 Katie Bennett – Email:; T: 020 7869 6052 Out-of-hours: 07966 486 832