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Ranks of female surgeons on the rise

By ZHOU WENTING in Shanghai | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-04-19 07:31
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From left: Yuqin, soon-to-be resident in chest surgery at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai; Wang Yangyun, associate chief doctor of urology surgery at Shanghai No 5 People's Hospital; Kuang Jie, chief thyroid surgeon at Ruijin Hospital; Liu Li, 39, an associate chief surgeon of urology at Zhongshan Hospital in Shanghai; Yin Wenjin, chief breast surgery doctor at Renji Hospital in Shanghai. CHINA DAILY

More women join occupation long dominated by men

Kuang Jie, chief thyroid surgeon at Ruijin Hospital, a prestigious medical institution in Shanghai, was the only woman enrolled in its general surgery department when she began her career 25 years ago.

Over the years, the number of female surgeons in a field long dominated by men has increased gradually, with some women breaking new ground by working in departments such as neurosurgery and orthopedics, she said.

"Gender differences are narrowing across industries. Not all men are as strong as people imagine. Some are gentle, both in appearance and personality, while some women are quite resolute, brisk and efficient," Kuang said.

Several factors have contributed to the increased role played by women in medicine, she added.

Minimally invasive procedures now account for more than 90 percent of surgeries, significantly reducing their duration. Moreover, in addition to clinical skills, research and teaching capabilities become important in assessing a doctor's ability.

For many years, about one in every 10 surgeons at Kuang's hospital was a woman, but there has been a slight increase in this proportion in recent years.

A report issued in 2019 by the surgical branch of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association said women accounted for 6 percent of surgeons nationwide.

Kuang said, "More women joining surgical departments may offer patients an unprecedented experience clinically, although the occupational barrier for them is still high."

After working as a resident in surgical and internal medicine departments in the late 1990s, she said she was more excited to work in the former department.

Over the years, Kuang has found that men's physical strength, a common reason among many people for excluding women as surgeons, is often not that evident.

"A male surgeon, just like a female surgeon, also feels exhausted after hours of surgery. Doctors battle such exhaustion regardless of their gender," she said.

It is also a common misunderstanding that doctors work under extreme pressure throughout a surgical operation, she said.

"I have never felt that way. Most procedures in a surgery are regular. For me, the mental stress during a surgery is no different to that resulting from seeing patients in an outpatient clinic, or working on a laptop," she said.

Kuang added that when medical students choose a career path now, they focus on the prospects in a particular discipline and a tutor's ranking in an individual field.

"There is no division between men and women when they consider the intensity of work in a department. Some men and women may hesitate in making a decision if a job is costly in terms of time and energy," she said.

Kuang added that the number of women in the medical field is related to the cultural development of a location.

Nurses from impoverished regions once asked her if she really was a doctor, as they had never seen a woman surgeon in their home areas.

Some women doctors said socializing in the workplace, where the rules are set by men and are usually more inclusive to males, may be a factor hindering women's career progress.

However, Kuang and other female surgeons said women in general have a stronger empathy, and are usually more talkative and composed in giving medical explanations to patients.

"Except for patients with extremely complicated diseases who seek the most authoritative medical experts, most patients have common diseases. They need doctors who can care for them, follow up on their treatment plans, discover their main concerns, and answer their questions," Kuang said.

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