International Women’s Day 2021
2021 presents an unprecedented time for women in surgery, exemplified by the fact that the BSSH, BAPRAS, BAAPS, ASiT and the ABS all currently have female Presidents, with a female Vice President-Elect currently in post at the BOA.
In order to celebrate this incredible milestone, each President has very kindly shared their experience as a woman in surgery for International Women's Day, including how they have challenged and overcome certain expectations and stereotypes in their respective specialities, as well as advice for budding female surgeons. A female Trainee from each Association has also shared their own account to provide a comparison of experience between the generations:
ASiT President-Elect - Miss Lolade Giwa
Plastic Surgery ST5 - Royal Free Hospital
- Why did you choose to pursue a career in your surgery speciality?
I knew I wanted to be a paediatric cardiac surgeon from the age of 12 after watching Holby City and loved it on my elective. It wasn’t until I considered relocating to Nigeria or UAE that I realised I might want a speciality less dependent on infrastructure. Fortune Iwuagwu, a consultant plastic surgeon told me "all you need are your loupes" and I was sold; I did a taster week and never looked back!
- What (if any) challenges did you face regarding this decision? Can be based on gender or otherwise.
Everyone told me it was a difficult speciality but that didn’t really bother me as cardiothoracic surgery was also highly sought after. We didn’t cover plastics at all at medical school, but it was easy enough to organise a taster week and befriend the registrars running peripheral minor ops lists.
- What sort of challenges or stereotypes have you experienced as a woman in your field of work (if any)?
My parents were desperate for me to be a GP or psychiatrist to facilitate having a family, but I stuck firmly to my guns!
- If encountered, how did you challenge/overcome them?
When I first found out about plastics as a speciality, I only knew of one black female consultant and 2 black female trainees in the country, which was slightly intimidating at first, but I’m quite used to being a minority, so that was fine! I’m very pleased that representation within plastics is increasing every year!
- What are the most effective ways to encourage more women to pursue careers in our respective areas of surgery?
I think the best way to encourage women is to a. Be a visible example- show potential surgeons how you have made it work for you. B. Continue to work towards removing the barriers to surgery such as attitudes to ‘Less-than-full-time training’, shared parental leave and job flexibility.
- How can we best support current female surgeons? Is there anything your representative Association/Society does well in this area, and/or is there anything that could be improved in your opinion?
We at ASiT were the first UK society to host a conference with a breastfeeding room and creche in order to make it as accessible an event as possible. We have strong ties to WinS and our enthusiastic student section have lots planned. Our society has a very representative council with the past 3 out of 4 presidents being women. I think there is always more that can be done. We have recently released our Equality and Diversity policy with an aim to hold ourselves accountable and ensure we are doing our bit to make surgery as accessible as possible such as ensuring our panels are diverse and challenging unconscious bias when encountered.
Find out more about the experiences of women in surgery at the following Associations/Societies: (links incoming)