Call for Social Media to 'Rewrite' Neurosurgery's Gender Imbalance

Damian McNamara

March 31, 2020

The power and reach of social media should be harnessed to correct the current gender imbalance in neurosurgery.

Social media could expand the number of mentors for female medical students, raise awareness about the rewards and challenges of becoming a neurosurgeon, and enlist more champions for the cause, three medical students write in an editorial letter published online March 16 in Lancet Neurology.

"We think those in charge ― regardless of gender ― should develop a comprehensive plan to advance and support the careers of women in neurosurgery," coauthor Soham Bandyopadhyay, a medical student at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.

"As a consequence of underrepresentation, it will be difficult for women alone to affect the changes necessary," Bandyopadhyay added.

Women Surgeons Still a Minority

Bandyopadhyah, along with medical students Emma Jane Norton, of St. George's University in London, and Jigishaa Moudgil-Joshi, of the University of Edinburgh, wrote the letter on behalf of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Interest Group in honor of International Women's Day on March 8.

The proportion of female doctors in the United Kingdom has increased every year over the past decade. However, women surgeons remain a minority.

"This under-representation is most evident in neurosurgery, trauma and orthopaedic surgery, and cardiothoracic surgery, where only around 18% of surgeons are female," the authors write.

"We propose that social media be used to help rewrite this narrative and increase female representation in UK neurosurgery," they add.

Although the letter focuses on neurosurgeons in the United Kingdom, the situation in the United States appears similar.

  No. of Women Total
Board-certified neurosurgeons 311 4027
Board-eligible neurosurgeons 76 446
Fellows 50 285
Residents 489 2653
Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons


The first step for change could be a greater understanding of the barriers that women face when deciding to pursue a career in neurosurgery, the authors note.

Concerns surrounding "stereotypes, male dominance, discrimination and the perceived work-life sacrifices" could deter women from choosing the field, the editorialists suggest.

Social media could help expand the number of role models and mentors for women looking to enter neurosurgery around the world. In addition, sharing the rewards and challenges of being a neurosurgeon on social media could give both the public and medical students a clearer picture of what a career in the specialty entails.

"There is increased recognition of this issue," in part from multiple ongoing advocacy and research projects, Bandyopadhyay said. "We are hopeful and optimistic about the future of women in neurosurgery."

A Long-Standing Issue

Commenting on the letter for Medscape Medical News, Jamie S. Ullman, MD, professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, Zucker School of Medicine, Hofstra/Northwell, Hempstead, New York, said it "underscores an issue" that neurosurgery has been grappling with for more than 60 years.

"While women constitute about 12% of the resident-in-training workforce in neurosurgery, only about 5% are practicing neurosurgeons," Ullman said.

"Clearly, there is a long way to go in terms of stimulating interest in female medical students to think seriously about a career in neurosurgery," she added.

There is also a "clear need" to incorporate all potential methods of social and professional communication in stimulating interest in neurosurgery, Ullman noted.

"This is especially relevant given the widespread usage of social media by young people in high school through medical school," she said.

Bandyopadhyay and Ullman have reported no relevant financial relationships.

Lancet Neurol. Published online March 16, 2020. Full text

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