Last year, RACS set out to better understand the barriers which women are facing when considering a career in surgery. They surveyed over 1600 junior doctors and medical students and confirmed that women encounter multiple barriers which influence their decision making in considering a career in surgery. In fact, surgery was the only career considered to pose overall high barriers for women entering the field. And although this was a study about surgery, we can draw many parallels with critical care medicine. Unfortunately, intensive care medicine was the next "worst" career field, and although it was viewed as neutral, it narrowly missed out as being a field which was viewed to pose significant barriers to women (cutoff <2.5 - more on the tool they used in the body of the study itself).
The findings confirmed what has been previously described for other disciplines (Leigh-Parsons). It's not that women simply do not have the ambition or drive to pursue a career in surgery - in fact key drivers included the intellectual stimulation of surgery, high levels of ambition and the ability to provide a value service for the community. It's that financial barriers, lack of female surgical role models, lack of visibility of women surgeons, and discrimination which is stopping them. These findings parallel previously described barriers studies of women in critical care medicine. Parson Leigh's study of over 300 critical care clinicians found that it is not that women don't actually want to pursue a career in intensive care medicine, is that that they face systemic barriers which prohibit them in doing so.
So what can we do about this? The authors have a few suggestions:
- The need for more female role models
- Have a zero tolerance for bullying and discrimination
- Fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity
- Ensure training programs are flexible, affordable and fair
- Reflection on how mentors give advice