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Barriers to Pursing a Career in Surgery

An Institutional Survey of Harvard Medical School Students

Giantini Larsen, Alexandra M. MD*,†; Pories, Susan MD*,‡; Parangi, Sareh MD*,§; Robertson, Faith C. MD, MSc*,§

doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000003618
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Objective: This study aimed to elucidate current medical student perceptions on barriers to a career in surgery, with a particular focus on gender-specific differences.

Summary Background Data: Although gender parity in medical school composition has been reached, women continue to be underrepresented in the field of surgery.

Methods: An anonymous, single-institution, internet-based survey conducted at Harvard Medical School.

Results: Approximately 720 medical students were surveyed and 261 completed the questionnaire (36.3%; 58.6% women, 41% men, 0.4% transgender). Overall, there was no significant gender difference in intention to pursue surgery (27% of men, 22% of women; P = 0.38). Sixty-nine percent of all students and 75% of those pursuing surgery reported verbal discouragement from pursuing a surgical career. Women were significantly more likely to perceive that the verbal discouragement was based on gender (P < 0.0001), age (P < 0.0001), and family aspirations (P = 0.043) compared to men. Surgical work hours and time for outside interests were the greatest deterrents for both genders. Significantly more women reported concerns about time to date or marry (P = 0.042), time to spend with family (P = 0.015), finding time during residency to have a child (P < 0.0001), taking maternity/paternity leave during residency (P < 0.0001), and being too old after residency to have a child (P < 0.0001).

Conclusions: Both men and women reported high rates of verbal discouragement, but more women perceived that the discouragement was gender-based. Concerns about marriage and childbearing/rearing significantly deterred more women than men. Family aspirations were also a significant factor for men to choose an alternative career path. Additional support within the surgical field is needed to mitigate these concerns and support trainees in both their career and familial aspirations.

*Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell, New York, NY

Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA

§Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA.

frobertson@partners.org.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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