A leading female surgeon has called for a cultural change in the UK’s medical system, saying it was a “hostile environment for women”.
Jyoti Shah, 44, a consultant urological surgeon at Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the West Midlands, says her colleagues face sexism every day in operating theatres by their male co-workers.
“Surgery still remains very male domina-ted and it does still appear as an old boys’ club. You’re very much an outsider as a woman,” she said. “You are trying to break into their gang almost and that culture is quite ingrained in surgery.”
Adding that operating theatres are a “hostile environment for women”, she cited a number of examples of sexist behaviour in the industry, including female surgeons being referred to as “nurses” and being asked to make tea.
“Women are tough resilient creatures but we’re facing this culturally ingrained behaviour by our male colleagues. Discrimination does exist – it’s existed for far too long and it’s time we did something about it,” Shah said.
“This is about saving lives and recruiting the best talent possible, regardless of gender. We want to create an environment that is appealing to everybody. We owe that to patients,” she added.
Her remarks came as research by Exeter University found women in the UK may be discouraged from entering surgery because there are fewer female role models.
It also found a perception among many women, who felt they were less likely to succeed than their male counterparts. About 68 per cent of newly qualified female doctors in the UK believed surgery was not a career that welcomed women.
There are around 800 female surgical consultants in England and they represent only 11 per cent of the total number.
The first female president of the UK’s Royal College of Surgeons, Clare Marx, agreed there was gender inequality in surgery but said the culture had to change from within.
“Women, just as men, can do anything they want to, as long as they can access the free support of their colleagues.”
Marx said she had been the recipient of sexist remarks while working as a surgeon, but from a patient. “There is a societal issue. I have certainly been the recipient from a patient who, when I went to explain a very complex operation, asked when the surgeon was coming.
“We can’t tell people to change their culture. We have to grow the numbers and show how we can change the culture from within rather than dictating. Laying down rules doesn’t work,” she added.