The role of gender in the decision to pursue a surgical career: A qualitative, interview-based study
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Background: Previous literature has explored the underrepresentation of women in surgery. However, this research has often been quantitative or limited by considering only the perspectives and experiences of women at more advanced career stages. Here, we use a qualitative methodology and a sample of women and men across the career continuum to identify the role that gender plays in the decision to pursue a surgical career.
Methods: We audio-recorded and transcribed semi-structured interviews conducted with 12 women and 12 men ranging in their level of medical training from medical students to residents to staff surgeons. We used Braun and Clarke’s six-step approach to thematic analysis to analyze the data, maintaining trustworthiness and credibility by employing strategies including reflexivity and participant input.
Results: Our findings suggested that the characteristics of surgery and early exposure to the profession served as important factors in participants’ decisions to pursue a surgical career. Although not explicitly mentioned by participants, each of these areas may implicitly be gendered. Gender-based factors explicitly mentioned by participants included the surgical lifestyle and experiences with gender discrimination, including sexual harassment. These factors were perceived as challenges that disproportionately affected women and needed to be overcome when pursuing a surgical career.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that gender is more likely to act as a barrier to a career in surgery than as a motivator, especially among women. This suggests a need for early experiences in the operating room and mentorship. Policy change promoting work-life integration and education to target gender discrimination is also recommended.