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BMJ. Sep 25, 1999; 319(7213): 860.
PMCID: PMC1116691
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Women in surgery

It is an embarrassment that the percentage of women consultant surgeons remains in single figures despite almost two decades of sex balanced intake to medical school, and last week the Royal College of Surgeons announced its plans to do something about it (see news p 802). Presumably influenced by its Women in Surgical Training Committee (www.rcseng.ac.uk/public/collmed/boards.htm#wist), it plans to parade positive role models at seminars for sixth formers and house officers and to promote its job sharing register further.

It’s not easy to find your way on to WIST’s page from the front page of the RCS (Eng) site, but it is there (www.rcseng.ac.uk/public/training/women_st.htm). On it you will find a history of women in surgery through the ages, a press release anticipating their place in the 21st century, and encouragement to network with its nationwide list of members.

Whether these measures will be successful is open to question; the anthropologists suggest that much more fundamental cultural values dictate the imbalance (news-info.wustl.edu/feature/1998/May98-surgeons.html).

Similar problems exist elsewhere. Almost half of all Canadian women surgeons said that they had been discriminated against in the course of their training (www.cma.ca/cmaj/vol-154/0021e.htm), although fewer felt that they had been discriminated against at formal decision nodes such as residency application. And in the United States only 2.3% of cardiothoracic surgeons are women (www.ama-assn.org/sci-pubs/journals/archive/surg/vol_131/no_11/oa6006.htm). Organisations such as the Association of Women Surgeons (womensurgeons.org/) exist to address this balance, and its formidable Pocket Mentor is worth the attention of budding surgeons of either sex. Efficient time management and reading widely about every case you see are the keys to success apparently. But its teaching on communication skills seems overly macho: “Do not let yourself be distracted by patient requests on wardrounds ... your job is to learn surgery.”

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