- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The medical profession wants more women in the field of general surgery, and a new online survey suggests that offering more flexible training options would help reach that goal.

The survey of more than 4,300 surgeons, surgical residents, surgical fellows and medical students found that all groups called for less rigidity in surgeon training. But it showed that women consistently were more interested in part-time training and other “flexible” alternatives to enable them to adapt their medical education with their lifestyles, particularly family issues.

The findings, published in this week’s issue of Archives of Surgery, could be used to attract more women to general surgery, in which they are underrepresented, researchers from the University of Virginia Health System and Johns Hopkins Hospital said.

While half of U.S. medical school graduates are women, they comprise only 24 percent of general surgery residents, according to the report.

Surgical residencies take a minimum of five years, and regulations limit workweeks to 80 hours. As many as one-fifth of surgical residents leave their programs before finishing, often citing lifestyle concerns, according to background information in the article.

In the report, lead author Dr. Alison R. Saalwachter cited a previous single-institution study that “found that women were twice as likely as their male counterparts to withdraw from a general surgical program.”

That study, she said, found most men left to change medical specialty but “that women and some men left most commonly for reasons related to the family,” such as parenting issues.

Dr. Saalwachter said a growing number of women are unwilling to delay becoming mothers until after their five-year residencies. She cited another survey in which female surgeons regretted waiting until after their residencies to become pregnant “because of problems with infertility, possibly related to advanced maternal age.”

Twenty percent to 30 percent of poll participants said they would accept a residency that lasted longer than five years in exchange for the opportunity to train part time. However, few said they would accept an extension to more than seven years.

Among nearly 500 medical students, 36 percent of women and 24 percent of men said more fluid training options would increase the likelihood of their going into general surgery.

At all levels of training, women were more likely than men to express interest in a residency program greater than five years. Nearly twice the percentage of women than men said they would be willing to accept a pay cut during those years.

“Since students of both sexes are increasingly selecting specialties with more controllable lifestyles than general surgery, efforts must be made to make general surgery more appealing to medical students of both sexes,” Dr. Saalwachter said.

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