Being a Female Surgeon
What's it like being a Surgeon?
Aimee is training to be an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. Those are surgeons, who are also qualified as dentists, who specialise in looking after problems with the face, jaw, head and neck.
Job title: Surgical Clinical Fellow (training in oral and maxillofacial surgery)
Current employer: NHS (National Health Service)
Hours: 48+ per week
How long have you been working in this field: I qualified as a Doctor 6 years ago, followed by 2 years to complete my Foundation Training, 2 years doing basic surgical training (Core Surgical Training) and I have worked in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery for just over a year, having spent some time on Maternity Leave.
What do you do in your job?
On a night shift I will see patients in Accident and Emergency (A&E). Sometimes they have been in a fight or had an accident and maybe broken a bone in their face. I examine them and look at their X-rays to decide if they need an operation. If they do, we’ll keep them in hospital to do the operation the following day.
Other times they may have a cut on their face that needs stitches, which I can do for them and then let them head home. Other times someone might have an infection in their mouth or face, and I prescribe them antibiotics.
I also help look after patients who are staying in the hospital overnight, some of whom are very sick and need multiple types of medicines. We don't do much surgery in the night but sometimes we have to do emergency operations, especially if someone has been in a very bad accident.
What made you want to become a doctor?
All doctors go into medicine wanting to help people. I loved science, but also wanted a job where I could engage with people.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
Feeling like I make a difference to people's lives but at the same time having a job that I find constantly interesting, challenging and fascinating. It is a humbling experience.
What were your favourite subjects at school? Was there anything you liked doing at school that helped you get to this career?
Art and Science. I was always creative and enjoyed working with my hands. I liked to find things out and loved doing experiments in science class.
What did you want to be as a child when you 'grew up'?
An engineer, a mechanic, a surgeon or an inventor.
Can you remember what your parents reactions were to that aspiration?
My parents actively encouraged my aspirations. They always said I can be whatever I want as long as I am happy.
Can you remember your parents or teachers wanting you to go into a specific career when you 'grew up'?
In primary school I was just encouraged to do what I enjoyed, which was Art and what I was good at - which was Science. During Secondary school, I was very much encouraged towards medical school.
Are there any specific qualifications you are required to have in your field?
You must hold a Medical degree to work as a Doctor and be registered with the GMC (General Medical Council). In order to progress you must pass your first year (F1) competencies and work through the training pathway. To then continue training as a Surgeon you must get your initial surgical exams, the MRCS (Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons).
I have chosen to do Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery so my next qualification will be a Dental degree. After that I will need to complete further training and ultimately gain my FRCS examination (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons) and CCT (Certificate of Completion of Training). Alongside this there are multiple other mandatory and advisable training courses.
What do you think are attitudes towards and expectations of female surgeons?
I hope that the expectations of me as a surgeon are the same as those of my male colleagues. I do not believe in 'female surgeons'- we are all Surgeons, some of us just happen to be female! This has been the vast majority of my experience so far although there are other less prominent challenges facing women in surgery, such as longer training, the practicalities of having a family, the gender pay gap and the lack of women in surgery.
Are people normally surprised when they find out what you do?
I have only ever been met with disbelief outside of work. When I am in the hospital and 'dressed the part', no patients question my role - especially as I will proceed to examine and treat them!
Outside of work, in my regular clothes, people often do not believe that I work as a Surgeon, let alone a Doctor. And on several occasions when they have believed I am a Doctor they assume I must be a GP!
The other difficulty is explaining the training pathway to people. I have achieved the first part of my surgical training and exams but am still a long way off from being a Consultant. When people hear that you are still training they assume you are a student. It will take me a total of 9 years, plus an extra 3 for my Dental degree, before I will be at Consultant level so it's a long pathway.
What are the challenges and benefits of being a surgeon?
The challenges in this line of work are multiple- firstly it requires stamina! The job can be very tiring and doesn't stop when you leave work. You will do huge amounts of work in our own time, but honestly I enjoy it. The training pathway is long and arduous, but it needs to be so that you have the right skills to work. Also you never stop learning, taking courses and exams.
The benefits are that it is a constantly fascinating career and many would not change it for the world!
What advice would you give to younger girls who are aspiring surgeons, or who haven't even considered it as a career?
If you have a brain for science and like to work with your hands, surgery could be for you! Medicine has many wonderful career options but if you are creative or just like to fix things you should definitely consider becoming a Surgeon.
Hours: You'll work long hours, including nights and weekends, being on call out-of-hours on a rota basis.
Starting salary: Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (FY1) earn a basic starting salary of £26,614. This increases in Foundation Year 2 (FY2) to £30,805. At 10 years, salaries reach £124,927 to £194,349. Those with 20 or more years of experience earn the most, with salaries between £59,515 and £255,485.
Qualifications required:To then continue training as a Surgeon you must pass your initial surgical exams, the MRCS (Mebmership of the Royal College of Surgeons), then after further training pass the FRCS (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons) along with obtaining your CCT (Certificate of Completion of Training). To be an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon you must also hold a Dental Degree that is registrable with the General Dental Council Medical degree and be registered with the GMC (General Medical Council).
"If you are creative or just like to fix things you should definitely consider becoming a Surgeon."
Prospects.ac.uk: Becoming a Surgeon
Biomedical Journal: How to become an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
Health careers: entry requirements for this role.
Royal College of Surgeons: The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance patient care. We support over 25,000 members in the UK and internationally by improving their skills and knowledge, facilitating research and developing policy and guidance.