October 10, 2019

Barriers to medical students pursing a career in surgery

By: Judy Mathias

Editor's Note

This survey of Harvard Medical School students’ perceptions of barriers to a career in surgery found high rates of verbal discouragement and concerns about family aspirations.

Of 729 medical students surveyed, 261 completed the questionnaire (58.6% women, 41% men, 0.4% transgender).

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Results showed:

  • no significant gender difference in intention to pursue surgery (27% of men, 22% of women)
  • 69% of all students and 75% of those pursuing surgery reported verbal discouragement
  • women were significantly more likely to perceive that verbal discouragement was based on gender, age, and family aspirations
  • surgical work hours and time for outside interests were the greatest deterrents for both men and women
  • significantly more women were concerned about finding time during residency to date or marry, be with family, have a child, take maternity/paternity leave, and being too old after residency to have a child
  • family aspirations also were a significant factor for men to choose an alternative career.

More support within the field of surgery is needed to mitigate concerns and support residents in their career and family aspirations, the researchers say.


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