Female medical students from across Australasia are invited to enter the Women in Surgery essay competition with first prize a free return trip to next year’s surgical college conference in Bangkok.

Currently about 12 per cent of the membership of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons are women and earlier this year the College appointed Dr Christine Lai, a breast and endocrine surgeon, to the new role of chair of the College’s Women in Surgery Section. Her role is to promote leadership, role modelling, flexible training and advocacy for women in surgery.

The section’s inaugural 1000 word essay competition is open to all New Zealand and Australian female medical students and the prize is flights, accommodation and full registration for the College’s 2019 annual scientific congress in Bangok in May.

Lai said earlier this year, in a statement to mark International Women’s Day, that equity within the practice of surgery was very important to the College’s council which she was now a member of,  The College’s  targets include increasing the number of women in surgical training from the current 29 per cent to 40 per cent by 2021.

“The challenge of attracting women to surgical careers is not unique in Australia or New Zealand, but, since half the medical graduates are female, there is a need to attract the best graduates to surgery, and the College of Surgeons is actively pursuing that goal,” she said.

Wellington Head and Neck Surgeon Dr Cathy Ferguson,  who is the College’s Vice President, said surgery needed to pay attention to the needs of its female colleagues, particularly in regards to flexible training opportunities, “”but we must also look to promote and support women in all aspects of life as a surgeon”.

Dr Rachel Care, an Otolaryngology Trainee and Chair of RACS Trainees’ Association said that barriers to participation in surgical careers needed to be addressed and diversity in surgery needed to be encouraged.

“We aspire for greater diversity in surgery with increased participation from women and indigenous doctors in surgical training. While there is now gender equity amongst medical graduates there continues to be real and perceived barriers to women entering surgical professions. It is important that we break down these barriers and provide strong mentorship to ensure the diversity of our surgeons reflects the diversity of our communities,” she said.

The first New Zealand women medical graduate to become a fellow of the United Kngdom’s Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) was Jean Sandel in 1947 (the first women member of RSC was Eleanor Davies-Colley in 1911). In 1957 Sandel also became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons which was founded in 1927.

Australian-born, Scottish trained, but Wellington-based doctor Agnes Bennett was one of a handful of Australasian women doctors who volunteered as surgeons during World War 1 and served in Scottish Women’s Hospitals near the Serbian front. Bennett returned to her work as medical officer to Wellington’s St Helens maternity hospital. Her Australian colleague Lilian Cooper became the first fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1928.The first female surgeon to become a Fellow of the College by passing the RACS Fellowship Examination was Lorna Sisely (1916-2004), from Victoria, who was admitted to Fellowship in June 1947.

The topic of the 1000 word essay competition is Are surgery and social media compatible? and entries close on 25 January 2019.  More information at the Women in Surgery Section page.

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