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Women in Orthopaedics: A Trainee’s Perspective

Female Orthopaedic Trainee

Starting out there weren’t many female orthopaedic trainees (let alone consultants) to ask if this was a good decision to make. Fortunately times are changing – and so is the face of orthopaedics!

I’ve summarised a few of my experiences along the way to give a bit more information for those considering a career in Trauma and Orthopaedics!

What’s it like being a female trainee?

Making the decision to be a surgical trainee and then choosing Orthopaedics for higher training means you are committing to a long training programme.  

This may be stating the obvious as it’s simple maths, but being female it does mean you have to consider what you want to do with your life in your late 20s to mid 30s.  

Of course there is no right answer to this. Some people have a life plan from age five and some, like me, have an evolving plan with some happy twists and turns. The good thing is that if you want to you can do it all.

I have been asked many times over my training questions such as:

It is very easy to feel your hackles rising when this happens as most people automatically see it as being a disadvantage being a female orthopaedic trainee.

What are the benefits of being a female trainee?

I will get back to answering those questions above shortly but first I want to give you a few reasons as to why being a female in Orthopaedics is actually an advantage on occasion:

1. You’ll stand out!

Women in Orthopaedics are still not equally represented, and this means that you will stand out.

The most recent figures from NHS England show that, as of January 2018, 11% of all higher trainees in T&O, including consultants, were women.

A ratio of 9:1 or thereabouts will inevitably mean you may stand out but this can be a good thing; rising to this challenge will cement you in the memories of your bosses.

Only a few years ago, the number was 1%. We still have a way to go before we equal the likes of Paediatrics and Plastic Surgery who have women as over 40% of the workforce.

Clearly this progress is a step in the right direction!

2. You’ll meet inspirational people

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some inspirational characters and some people that have helped me along my evolving path.  

We can all think of great surgeons that we have seen but deciding on what kind of surgeon you want to be can be difficult.  I remember one senior orthopaedic trainee in particular from when I was a core trainee.

She seemed to be excellent at her job, respected and also well liked by her colleagues.  

How did she do this?  Well, one of things that struck me was that she really wasn’t trying to be anything she wasn’t.  

Being open and approachable, honest and not condescending was impressive and refreshing. This is something I would strongly recommend: be yourself, not a version of yourself that you think the job demands.

What are the difficulties of being a female trainee?

Happily I can say that I’ve not found myself in any situations where I felt disadvantaged by my sex during my training. I do, however, know that all of my colleagues have had difficult or aggressive patients to deal with. This is just life and not limited to Orthopaedics, but if this happens, make sure to report it and talk it through.

Working in a male dominated field can have its challenges and this may be what puts off potential trainees. As mentioned above, the face of Orthopaedics really is changing and the stereotypical Orthopaedic trainee with a hammer is evolving into the intelligent, evidence-based practitioner who has many faces.

The new generation of trainees of both sexes are broad-minded and generally embrace change. The Consultant population remains very male dominated but in every department I’ve worked in I’ve found consultants that are ready and willing to teach and support my training without any prejudice, so don’t let this put you off!

Do you have any advice for female trainees?

1. Stand up for yourself

Do back yourself, and this is in interviews, career discussions and job planning.  Your male counterparts are historically better at asking for what they want and getting it.

Don’t be afraid of asking for a certain job or opportunity within a firm, just be aware that the answer will not always be yes (and this is ok!).

2. Explore your options

Back to those difficult questions that inevitably colleagues, friends and family ask you.  

Orthopaedic training is becoming more inclusive and taking time off for maternity leave, job sharing or working part-time are all options available to you to make life easier.  

There are support networks out there both official (through Health Education England) and unofficial (such as social media).

3. Share your experiences with other female trainees

Being able to share experiences either via WhatsApp or other platforms with other female trainees can provide a large support network and make you realise that you are very much not alone even if you are the only female in your department.  

4. Final Tips

My final words of advice echo what I’ve already said. If you are considering Orthopaedic training, don’t be put off by stereotypes.

  1. Be the doctor/surgeon you want to be, not what you think is expected.
  2. Find good role models and good trainers and make supportive friendship with your fellow trainees.  
  3. Enjoy the work but don’t let it rule your life – you can have a life outside of Orthopaedics and you can have both!  
  4. Embrace the difference you bring to the Orthopaedic world, now is the perfect time to get involved.  You may even find that this speciality of fixing bones, using new technologies, improving lives and making the occasional bad joke, is the one for you.  

Good luck!

Words: Anonymous Female Orthopaedic Registrar

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