Letter: Medical glass ceiling

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your article "Where are the female surgeons?" (6 June) raises some important questions. First, has there been any investigation into why the 11 women surgeons who preceded Briony Ackroyd in the flexible training scheme were unable to make it work? These schemes were designed specifically to retain women with children in the profession, and were funded by taxpayers' money. It seems inconceivable that 11 out of 12 highly selected women surgeons fell short professionally - the explanation must lie elsewhere. The cost of training a doctor to consultant level is pounds 250,000, and their loss represents the waste of a sum approaching pounds 2.75m.

Second, that "they" threatened not to renew Briony Ackroyd's contract on the grounds that she was a woman and older than her fellow trainees is obviously illegal, and reflects the extraordinary ignorance of many male surgeons of the most basic aspects of equal opportunity treatment. I also was told "you will be too old to be a consultant", and that "we feel it is not possible to train a woman part-time in this department". This is part of male hospital culture that needs to be dealt with very vigorously.

Third, an inquiry into a surgeon's competence in training is very unusual, and must have been exceedingly painful. What proportion of men in training are subjected to this, compared with the women? If a disproportion exists, the reasons for initiating such an inquiry must be closely examined by an outside agency.

I feel the profession is unable to monitor its own performance in training women. This is an appropriate area for external regulation.