The survey, conducted by Dr Wendy Liu, Dr Joyce Yu, and RACS Fellows Dr Upeksha De Silva and Dr Christine Lai found the majority of surgical trainees believe there is a negative stigma in surgery associated with taking parental leave.

Key findings include: 

- 199 respondents (trainees, fellows and consultants) completed the survey (140 female, 59 male).
- 79 per cent of females took 6 or more weeks of paid parental leave. 
- No males took more than 6 weeks of paid parental leave, and 31 per cent took no paid parental leave at all.
- 43 per cent of male parents did not qualify for or were declined paid parental leave. 
- 40 per cent of respondents believed surgery had negatively impacted their family relationships.
- 67 per cent would consider delaying or did delay starting a family due to surgical training. 
- 58 per cent believe there is a negative stigma in surgery associated with taking parental leave. 
- 94 per cent valued work-life balance.
- 73 per cent would consider flexible or part-time training to balance work and family commitments. 
- 93 per cent believe it is important for RACS to have an accessible parental leave policy.  

Dr Liu, a Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Trainee and general surgery registrar at Royal North Shore Hospital said medical colleges, including RACS should consider implementing a parental leave policy.

“RACS, along with other medical colleges, need to be proactive in implementing a parental leave policy that is reflective of a changing culture in medicine,” Dr Liu said.

“Many trainee surgeons are not eligible for parental leave because they are required to move from state-to-state to complete their surgical training and advance their career.

“New South Wales is the only state which recognises parental leave entitlements for returning trainees. The other states are playing catch-up and trainee surgeons are the ones suffering.”

The research also explored pregnancy related experiences of surgical registrars and surgeons during training.

Key findings include:

- 140 respondents (female surgical trainees, fellows and consultants), of whom 36 per cent were pregnant during surgical training. 
- 83 per cent worked more than 40 hours a week during their 3rd trimester.
- 81 per cent were worried their work schedule would compromise their or their baby’s health.
- Despite this, 35 per cent of responders continued working beyond 38 weeks gestation. 
- 50 per cent experienced pregnancy or neonatal-related complications, most commonly attributed to a physically taxing job, long hours and interrupted sleep. 
- As a result of their experiences, 32 per cent of trainees considered leaving surgery. 
- 87 per cent were concerned requests for accommodations would be perceived negatively by colleagues and supervisors. 
- Breastfeeding was important to 89 per cent, but 40 per cent stopped early due to challenges expressing between clinical duties and a lack of suitable lactation facilities. 
- 94 per cent reported a desire for greater mentorship

Dr Yu, a pre-vocational doctor at Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai Hospital said it should be easier for surgical trainees to start a family, without it impacting their career progression.   

“To attract and retain talented and dedicated surgeons, our culture must change to support pregnancy and ensure mentorship is widely available,” Dr Yu said.

“A clear parental leave policy would help eliminate ambiguity and help deliver greater work-life balance. There needs to be someone looking after the surgeons too.” 

Dr Liu and Dr Yu’s research will be unveiled at the the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress in Brisbane (2-6 May).

The Congress is the largest multi-disciplinary surgical meeting held in the southern hemisphere and brings together some of the top surgical and medical minds from across New Zealand, Australia, and the rest of the world.


For more information about the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress, please visit:

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