Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Meeting women in surgery – Part 1
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Meeting women in surgery – Part 1

07 Jul 2021

In this episode of Taking care, host Susan Biggar talks with two female surgeons to discuss the challenges of working in a demanding career where women continue to be significantly underrepresented.

Dr Victoria Atkinson, cardiac surgeon and Chief Medical Officer of Healthscope and Dr Vera Sallen, orthopaedic surgeon, talk about the need for cultural change to increase diversity and empower the next generation of female surgeons, and offer their unique perspectives on gender quotas, shaped by the barriers and biases they’ve encountered as they progress through their careers.

‘We need to actively seek out…and be very public about the fact that we need diversity and we need women,’ says Victoria, ‘It’s not just a nice to have – we need them [in the profession].’

‘We do know that diversity, in terms of a functional, well-balanced diverse [operating] team is good for the patient’s care,’ adds Vera, ‘Looking around the room at an audit meeting, I’d like to see 50% women.’

Vera also says that the expectations placed on female surgeons, particularly during training, often result in resilience, superior communicative skills, and a robust patient-centred approach.

Despite frequently being the only woman in the meeting or the operating room, Vera and Victoria are buoyed by the gradual shift in the perception of female surgeons.

Victoria recalls a moment she realised an incredible transition had occurred:

‘I do remember standing in my theatre once, and I had a female registrar, a female anaesthetist, a female anaesthetic registrar, a female scrub-team and a female perfusionist, and just standing there and going “the ladies have arrived”.’

This episode is part one of a two-part series on women in surgery. Listen to the full episode here.


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Page reviewed 7/07/2021