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International Women's Day 2017

Women in Surgery programme

Our Women in Surgery programme exists to encourage, inspire and support women in surgery, or those interested in a surgical career. We run events, support local networking sessions and host a directory. Find out more and join for free today.


How our members are bold for change

Farah Bhatti FRCS, Chair of the RCS Women in Surgery Forum

"This year’s International Women's Day theme is #BeBoldForChange – a phrase that will mean different things to our diverse membership. I am therefore pleased that we are profiling a cross section of surgeons who will share their thoughts on the subject. My personal perspective is that, as surgeons, we are bold every day in the work we do, whether it is the decision taken to operate (or not), the technical skills we display in theatre and our key roles in patient care and leading our teams. However, there are numerous opportunities out there that may either not be immediately apparent, or may feel out of reach – alternatively you may fear the risk of failure. To this I say #BeBoldForChange! Apply for that job, course, fellowship or award. Why wouldn’t you? For the more senior consultants, have you thought of putting yourself up for positions such as college tutor, college assessor or standing for your specialty Society executive or SAC. Perhaps think about applying to be an Examiner? All these opportunities exist right now, and by stepping up to the plate we can both #BeBoldForChange for ourselves, and become role models to encourage our fellow surgeons to #BeBoldForChange."

Clare Marx, RCS President

"Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything" - George Bernard Shaw

On international women's day I highlight the need to be bold - progress has to be enabling all of us to reach our true potential. I don't know what my next move will be after I step down in July from the RCS presidency but wherever I go and whatever I do I will continue to encourage all those coming behind to enjoy this wonderful challenging and ever changing career of surgery.

During my term of office I established the The Lady Estelle Wolfson Emerging Leaders Fellowship led by Vivien Lees and supported by Lady Estelle Wolfson. Now in its second year, this really has enabled women to explore and understand the leadership world as they progress in their careers. The RCS will also be providing leadership events and groups for all of our interested fellows and members to learn, be bold and change together as we nurture our NHS."

Donna Egbeare FRCS, Consultant in General Surgery

"I will be in Sierra Leone on International Women's Day, working with an all female multidisciplinary cancer specialist team (including oncologist, lead oncology nurse, palliative care and lymphoedema specialist) Our aim is to help improve breast cancer care in Sierra Leone through training and mentorship.This will be my first visit but the South Wales Sierra Leone Cancer Care Link have been visiting Sierra Leone since 2010.  

The Ebola outbreak 2014-16 stalled a lot of the progress that had been achieved in Sierra Leone, towards improving cancer care. We're helping get the programme back on track at the request of the  dedicated local health care professionals. During this visit we are aiming to upskill local healthcare workers, with a focus on  breast cancer and will continue the teams work building a cancer registry, developing supportive and palliative care and multidisciplinary team working.    

Rather than simply transpose our own pathways to the Sierra Leone context, we aim to use and adapt systems with local health professionals to develop sustainable local guidelines. Critical areas we have been asked to support include surgery, radiology, safe chemotherapy and palliative care. You can follow our visit on Twitter @SWSLCancerCare.  For further information or to support, please contact Vanessa Adams.  This project has been supported by Hub Cymru and the Wales4Africa Health Links Network and the team are hosted by Velindre NHS Trust."

Ciara McGoldrick FRCS, Oncoplastic TIG Fellow, ASiT Council Member

Ciara "The change I feel most fundamentally in surgical training is the sense of parity with my colleagues in our role as parents and care givers. I can sense a groundswell of opinion that while female trainees have pushed ahead in gaining acknowledgement for the importance of balance between surgery and family, there is a risk of not extending this throughout the profession evenly.

In a way, my male colleagues have an even greater challenge, because committing time away from training to adopt caring responsibilities is currently beyond the experience of our senior surgeons. It would do our profession a great disservice to have to break down barriers again, to have to fight the same battle twice. So on International Women's Day, while we remember those brave women that pushed boundaries to allow us to embrace all our roles, as surgeon, mother and citizen, we must endeavour to support our male contemporaries who are pushing to fulfil all their roles just as fastidiously."

Simon Fleming MRCS, BOTA President, Specialist Registrar Trauma & Orthopaedics

Simon"As President of the British Orthopaedic Trainee Association (BOTA), I embraced the opportunity to make a profound, palpable change in the world of surgery, when we launched the HammerItOut initiative. HammerItOut aims to create a positive and just workplace culture in orthopaedic surgery, free from bullying, harassment and undermining behaviours, as well as inspiring culture change in the wider healthcare community.

It is my unflinching belief that all people, including women, who remain underrepresented in surgery, should be valued and treated with respect. I hope to bring about tangible change to transform the profession I love, to improve the lives of both staff and patients alike."

Scarlett McNally FRCS, Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon, RCS Council member

Scarlett"I love operating.  I have tried to analyse and fix bigger problems! I was lead author for 'Exercise: the miracle cure'.  I see bullying and lack of diversity as people not knowing how to value others, so we wrote: 'Avoiding unconscious bias: a guide for surgeons'.  And surgery should be fundamental for all doctors, so I pulled together 'the surgical undergraduate curriculum' and 'learning in the operating theatres'.

I’m now leading on a new NHS role: Band 3 ‘Doctors’ Assistants’ to free FY/Core surgeons for training, see: My advice is value yourself and take a risk for what you feel is right!"

Beryl De Souza FRCS, Plastics

Beryl"I am bold for change and encourage women doctors to speak out and support each other through their career pathways. I do this by being involved and sitting on committees such as Women in Surgery, Medical Women’s Federation, British Medical Association and the General Medical Council.

We can influence change if we sit at discussion tables and challenge unconscious bias and address equality and inclusivity issues. I therefore say to my women colleagues you too can be an agent for change by getting involved and being bold and challenging behaviours and actions from those around you that are not OK."

Stella Vig FRCS, Consultant, Vascular Surgery

Stella"The biggest change in Surgery is the acceptance of a work-life balance. I asked a Senior female Surgeon in 1992 whether a surgical career could be blended with a family and was told not. Gaining a surgical registrar post and becoming pregnant, I remember hiding it as long as possible. With significant pre-eclampsia with the first baby and meconium with the second, I wondered whether working until the day before was a causative or compounding factor. Taking 12 weeks maternity leave twice made me resolve that none of my future trainees would repeat this. I am now fiercely protective of my pregnant trainees but also of any trainee who requires a work-life balance, whether male or female.

The profession needs to recruit, retain and value all trainees as Surgery needs to continue to be a rich enjoyable career embracing the diversity of its members."

Rhiannon Harries MRCS

"We are currently in an era when there are more females working in surgery than ever before; yet despite this, work-life balance is still seen as a barrier to choosing a career in surgery. Surgical training often occurs at the time of important life events such as commencing a family. Can we do more to ensure women in surgery are not disadvantaged by these important life events? The answer has to be yes!

During my time as ASiT president we surveyed trainees* on their experiences of less than full time training. Shockingly 54% of LTFT trainees had experienced undermining behaviour as a direct result of their LTFT, 91% found information on applying for LTFT inadequate and 62% experienced some difficulties in organising their LTFT. These findings are clearly unacceptable!  

ASiT has since been working closely with JCST, RCSEng, GMC, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Health Education England to ensure that LTFT becomes an acceptable option (free from negative views with availability of clear information) for any trainee within surgery. 

But we must all play a part in this bold change ensuring we all create a supportive working environment for our colleagues and juniors!"


*Harries RL et al. BMJ Open 2016;6:e010136.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010136

Eminent female surgeons

Photographed by artist and photographer Jane Brettle for a larger project called Airside

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