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Female Surgeons Like What They Do, Survey Finds

But most say they'd prefer more flex time and balance in life

TUESDAY, July 21, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- If they had to do it all again, most female surgeons would choose the same career path, a new survey has found.

Yet the survey results, published in the July issue of Archives of Surgery, revealed some of the difficult life choices female surgeons have to make because of their rigorous training and work schedule.

Few female than male surgeons had children, for example: about 64 percent vs. 91 percent, the researchers found. And when they did have children, female surgeons tended to have them later in life, with 62 percent of women having children after they'd entered surgical practice, compared with 32 percent of men.

And while at work, women tended to have less support at home than their male counterparts. Only 9 percent of women had a spouse who did not work outside the home, compared with 56 percent of men.

The survey, conducted by researchers from University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, included a questionnaire that assessed the attitudes of surgeons toward their personal and professional life. Responses were tallied from 698 men and 178 women who were board certified between 1988 and 2004.

Nearly 83 percent of the women and 78 percent of the men said they would choose surgery as a profession again, and 84 percent of the women and 61 percent of the men would recommend surgery as a career choice, the survey revealed.

But like many women in other lines of work, female surgeons said they would have appreciated the option of working part-time or having more flexible hours.

About 68 percent of female surgeons said maternity leave was important, compared with 31 percent of male surgeons. Women also found child care at work far more important, with nearly 87 percent of female surgeons believing it should be available, compared with about 70 percent of the men. In addition, about 9 percent of female surgeons and 3 percent of male surgeons had ever worked part-time.

Though the number of women becoming surgeons is increasing, researchers said that offering more generous maternity leave, workplace child care and flexible hours might entice more women to choose and stay in the profession.

"In the medical field, a career in surgery has significant lifestyle implications: The profession is associated with high degrees of patient acuity, significant on-call responsibility and irregular work hours, all requiring a significant commitment of personal time," the researches wrote. "The extent to which the surgical workplace has evolved to accommodate women and their role in family life is unknown to the public, in general, and to the upcoming generation of women physicians, in particular."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on working mothers.

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives, news release, July 20, 2009
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