Gender equity in surgery: Redefining the professional identity of the surgeon

David Wainwright, Michael Harris, Elaine Wainwright* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


The study conducted by Okoshi and colleagues supports the claim that female surgeons can achieve as good outcomes as male surgeons and raises the question of why, when most medical school entrants are women, they remain under-represented in surgical specialties. The existing literature indicates several structural barriers, such as shift patterns, lack of part time employment opportunities, and the effects of maternity leave on career progression, as well as cultural barriers, such as the belief that surgery is “an old boys’ club” and the dominant stereotype of the surgeon that comprises traditionally male characteristics.
Several studies have shown that successful female surgeons can counter these barriers by acting as role models for early career surgeons. Our own research qualifies this claim, indicating that female surgeons who achieve success by conforming to the traditional stereotype of the surgeon might impede rather than enhance women’s professional identification with the specialty. Female (and male) surgeons who achieve success on their own terms, and effectively challenge the traditional stereotype, might be more effective as positive role models. A key question for the profession is the extent to which the stereotypical personality characteristics attributed to surgeons, and the ways in which surgical specialties are organised and delivered, are necessary to achieve
good outcomes, or whether they are an unnecessary relic of surgery’s male dominated past that could be changed by redefining the professional identity of the surgeon and through job redesign.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbero2580
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2022


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