Every year, more and more talented female medical professionals are seeking out NHS surgical jobs as they look to embark on a career in one of the healthcare system's most important lines of work.
As time passes, it is becoming easier and simpler for female surgeons to compete on a level playing field with their male counterparts and thrive in an industry free of prejudice, glass ceilings and other gender-based barriers to progression.
However, this has not always been the case, which is why organisations such as the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) continue to strive for greater equality within this and other sectors of the NHS.
The steady march of progress
In the distant past, women tended to be discouraged or prevented from practising surgery, but changing cultural norms and the steady acceptance of progressive ideas have helped to put an end to this in the last century or so.
In 1919, there were only four female Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, but by 1990 this had risen to 320, and then to 1,184 by 2009, with an additional 1,889 female RCS members. Meanwhile, UCAS figures show that in 2011, 55 per cent of those accepted on to medical degree courses in the UK were women - a clear majority.
Women are now represented in all nine surgical specialities across all levels, with the most popular specialty being general surgery, a discipline chosen by 37 per cent of females. Meanwhile, paediatric surgery is the sector with the highest overall proportion of women surgeons at 22 per cent, followed by plastic surgery with 16 per cent and oral and maxillofacial surgery at 13 per cent.
Further improvements to be made
However, true gender parity has not been achieved just yet. A report from the RCS and the University of Exeter last summer revealed that only nine per cent of surgeons overall are women, with the current growth rate coming to around one per cent every four years.
Although the high number of female surgical students suggests this will improve over the next decade or so - training in surgery can take around ten years after graduation, and 26 per cent of surgical trainees were women in 2011 - further progress is clearly needed.
As such, the RCS runs a number of initiatives and projects via its Women in Surgery campaign to rectify this, with the overall aims of raising awareness of female surgeons, improving understanding of the challenges they face, encouraging a culture change and offering advice and support to those who need it.
These efforts are coordinated with bodies such as the British Medical Association and Medical Women's Federation, with female surgical staff receiving guidance on careers issues, lifestyle advice and discussion of employment law.
Meanwhile, regular national conferences and workshops are also helping to bridge the gap, offering knowledge and the opportunity to meet other women to share experiences. The next of these events, the National Women in Surgery Conference will take place on May 2nd 2014 at the RCS headquarters in London.
Through these and other efforts, it is hoped that female surgeons will continue to receive more opportunities, allowing them to contribute their considerable skills and expertise to the betterment of the NHS as a whole.
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