Tuesday 19 September 2017

'We can have it all, but it isn't easy' - Trainee female surgeon targets success in male-dominated profession

Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, Dr Ailin Rodgers, Senior Surgical Trainee at the RCSI and Chair of the Working Group, Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital.
Photo by Julien Behal.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD, Dr Ailin Rodgers, Senior Surgical Trainee at the RCSI and Chair of the Working Group, Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital. Photo by Julien Behal.

Claire Fox

A female trainee surgeon has said it is "possible for women to be surgeons and have it all" - even though new research shows the profession continues to be dominated by men.

Research this week from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland shows that just 7pc of surgical consultants are female and just 34pc of surgical trainees are women - even though women make up half of medicine graduates.

But Dr Ailin Rogers (33), who is training at the RCSI, said although the road to becoming a surgeon is a long one, she doesn't believe it poses different challenges to any other "competitive profession".

"If you're a woman and want to have it all, you're going to have to work hard," Dr Rogers told Independent.ie.

"It's the same in every specialty that's competitive, it doesn't matter if you're a surgeon or an accountant."

Dr Rogers was a member of RCSI's working group on gender diversity. Its report this week cited pregnancy as one of the major reasons why fewer women enter the surgical field. It takes more than eight years after you graduate from medicine to become a surgeon and it is also necessary to complete a PhD and a fellowship abroad on top of this.

Chair of the Working Group, Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital, Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD and Dr Ailin Rodgers, Senior Surgical Trainee at the RCSI.
Photo by Julien Behal
Chair of the Working Group, Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital, Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD and Dr Ailin Rodgers, Senior Surgical Trainee at the RCSI. Photo by Julien Behal

The work-life balance conflict is something Dr Rogers believes is a "societal problem" that not only affects women but men too, adding that it needs to be addressed.

"It's a difficulty that arises for both sexes. I think former consultants would have come from families and couples where only one person worked but now people couples both work. My partner is a full-time GP and we've an 18 month old son together. It is busy," she said.

Dr Rogers explained that another reason women don't consider surgery is because other medical specialties "put it down".

"It's funny, looking back I never considered surgery when I was a medical student, even though I enjoyed it and it was my best subject. It's not that surgery wasn't promoted, other disciplines put it down," she said. 

"So many from other specialties would say: 'Why would you go in to surgery? You've to sacrifice so much' But that's the case in every field," Dr Rogers, who graduated from Medicine in UCD in 2007, added.

The RCSI highlighted that while more than 50pc of medical graduates are female, very few enter surgery. Dr Rogers admits that she found the lack of female surgeons in hospitals when she was an undergraduate "very striking".

"When I was a medical student in my training hospital there were barely any female surgeons. It was rare to see any but there definitely are more coming through," she said.

Although female surgeons are in the minority in Ireland, Dr Rogers added that they are well-supported by their male colleagues.

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