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Leading surgeon warns patient care could be undermined unless profession attracts more women

08 Mar 2016

A leading surgeon will today warn that the quality of care patients receive could be affected unless society and the medical profession do more to attract women into surgery.

Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons and a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, will say latest figures show around 57 per cent of doctors in training are women* but only 30 per cent of surgical trainees and 11 per cent of consultant surgeons are female.

Speaking at an event to mark International Women’s Day, the Women in Surgery (WinS) conference at the Royal College of Surgeons, she will say:

“Surgery used to be one of the most sought-after medical specialties. Yet our failure to attract sufficient and growing female trainee numbers is a factor behind why we are now attracting fewer overall candidates into surgery.

“Unless we can reverse that trend and encourage and support more women to access surgery as a career, we risk reducing our choice from the talent pool. Eventually that has the potential of reducing the quality of care that patients receive.”

Referring to recent analysis published in BMJ Careers, Miss Marx will point out that while surgery has traditionally been one of the most popular medical careers, in 2014, it was not possible to fill every training post for the 10 surgical specialities.

Although the selection process was as competitive as ever, the ‘fill rate’ for core surgery fell short of other areas of medicine, including: acute care common stem, anaesthesia, clinical radiology, ophthalmology and public health.

Miss Marx will say: “I strongly believe that a major factor behind this [fall in the fill rate] is the increasing numbers of women in medicine for whom surgery is still not a popular career option.

“As my surgical colleagues have made clear [in the BMJ study], if surgery continues to be seen as a male dominated discipline and women choose not to apply, we really will be fishing in an increasingly small pond.”

To attract more women into the profession, Miss Marx will call for medical leaders to:

  • Talk positively about the benefits of a career in surgery for women, singing its praises;
  • Challenge the perception that a surgical career makes greater demands on your work/life balance than other postgraduate careers;
  • Be prepared to talk openly about these issues and offer practical solutions, including supporting men and women in less than full time training so they can balance their work, social and family commitments;
  • Banish ‘all male short lists’ for interview panels and conferences; and
  • Encourage and applaud men and women who sponsor their female peers in surgery.

Miss Marx, who became the first trauma and orthopaedic female trainee in London in 1981 and went on to be elected the first female President of the RCS in 2014, will tell the audience:

“In my own career, I am extremely grateful for the guidance and mentoring that I received from men, and I wouldn’t be standing on this platform with you today if it wasn’t for the courageous male and female leadership and support that I have experienced to date.

“That is exactly what we are aiming to do with our emerging leaders group at the College and through the fantastic work of Women in Surgery. These national actions should be promoted and replicated on a local basis as well.”

Notes to editors

1. The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) inspires and supports women at every stage of their surgical career through its Women in Surgery (WinS) programme.

2. A full copy of Miss Clare Marx’s speech to the Women in Surgery (WinS) conference is available on request.

3. In September (2015), the RCS launched the Estelle Wolfson Emerging Leaders’ Group to encourage female consultants and Staff and Associate Specialist and Speciality (SAS) doctors to take part in leadership roles in surgery.  This year’s cohort included 15 female surgeons.

4. *For the latest figures on women doctors in training, see figure 12 on page 37 of the GMC’s report The state of medical education and practice in the UK 2014:

5. The BMJ Career study was written by the surgeons Mr Ian Eardley, Mr Humphrey Scott, and Mr David Wilkinson. Mr Eardley is Vice President of the RCS. See:

6. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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