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Senior female surgeon dismisses claims that sexism is rife

Published 01/10/2015

About 11% of surgical consultants in England are female - a total of around 800
About 11% of surgical consultants in England are female - a total of around 800

A senior surgeon has dismissed claims by a female colleague that sexism is rife in the profession and suggested women should laugh off remarks made by male counterparts.

Gill Tierney also said claims by consultant urological surgeon Jyoti Shah that operating theatres were a "hostile environment for women" would make young female doctors think twice about applying for jobs as surgeons.

Ms Shah told Radio 4's Today programme: "Surgery still remains very male dominated and it does still appear as an old boys' club and you're very much an outsider as a woman."

She added: "I know one woman who, as she was operating, she leant over and the consultant whom she was operating with very gently brushed against her breast.

"More subtle forms are being referred to as 'the nurse', being in a meeting with men and being the only woman and you're asked to make the tea."

However, Gill Tierney, a consultant surgeon who trains young doctors, told the Press Association that women should apply "laughter and intelligence" to comments made by male colleagues.

She said: "I'm sad that they have had those experiences but that would not be my experience. The operating theatre usually has a lot of people in it so I would hope that it would have just been an error. I think humour is a very valuable skill in this profession."

Ms Tierney added: "Many of my young female trainees texted me this morning and they couldn't believe what they were hearing.

"I can't read out what they said in the messages but they didn't really find it representative of what they had experienced."

In a 2013 survey, 68% of newly-qualified UK female doctors believed surgery was not a career that welcomed women.

Ms Tierney warned that comments such as Ms Shah's could lead to more young medical doctors not choosing to go into surgery.

"It isn't like it was 20 years ago. There are female role models in surgery now. And lots of us have families, lots of us have children. We don't want young girls to be put off applying."

About 11% of surgical consultants in England are female.

The first female presiden t of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), Clare Marx, told Today there was a fine line between a joke and sexist abuse.

Ms Marx said: "We have to be very careful that there isn't a confusion between a manner of speaking and something that is rightly offensive."

She said: "Women who have come through the career to date have been very alone. I hope that I as president and the six members of my council and many of the wonderful surgeons will show that it is a wonderful career for women.

"Women, just as men, can do anything they want to, as long as they can access the free support of their colleagues."

Ms Marx said she had experienced sexist remarks while working as a surgeon, but from a patient.

"There is a societal issue and I have certainly been the recipient of a patient, who when I went to explain a very complex operation, at the end of it all asked when the surgeon was coming."

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