Being a surgeon is tough. Long hours, life or death situations and an invisible glass ceiling that sees women opting out of the profession. But women are tough, so why are there so few female surgeons?
Meet Dr Nikki Stamp
Dr Nikki Stamp is a cardiothoracic surgeon – that’s heart and lung surgery – with an inherent passion and curiosity to further our understanding of the human heart.
“The heart fascinates me,” she says. “It’s so robust yet so delicate at the same time. And it’s clever – so clever that it does a huge amount of things from beat to beat that even your brain isn’t aware of.”
Dr Nikki and her team perform bypass grafts and valve replacements, deliver transplants and insert ventricular assist devices (more commonly known as “mechanical hearts”). It’s a fascinating area of medicine that Dr Nikki hopes to encourage more women to pursue.
Expectations v. reality
“I think people still expect surgeons to be gruff, old men.” she says. It’s this kind of subtle stereotyping that ultimately locks women out of the profession.
According to a 2011 report from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, only 8.5% of surgeons are female. It’s estimated this stems from concerns over work-life balance, concerns about bullying or harassment, or lack of visible role models.
Studies also show that female surgeons are judged more harshly than their male counterparts after a patient death, with doctors less likely to refer to that surgeon in future. Male surgeons tend to receive no significant lasting effect.
The times they are a-changing
“The times are definitely changing and medicine is becoming much less patriarchal and much more collaborative, both with other health care professionals but most importantly with patients.” says Dr Nikki.
Why become a surgeon? Dr Nikki thinks the real reward is not in defying the odds, but in what she can do for her patients.
“I think surgeons are some of the brightest, hard-working people I know. The dedication, the study, the perseverance is all in the name of being better, all the time so that our patients may reap the rewards.”
“The times are definitely changing and medicine is becoming much less patriarchal and much more collaborative, both with other health care professionals but most importantly with patients.”
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.