2023 | Volume 24 | Issue 2

Winning essay tackles gender equality in surgery

Dewi Ang

Dr Dewi Ang has won an essay writing competition run by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). The topic: Is seeking gender equality in surgery enough or should we be seeking equity? The goal of the competition, according to RACS, is to encourage more women medical students to consider a career in surgery. 

Her prize for winning the competition is an invitation to the upcoming RACS Annual Scientific Meeting in Adelaide, in May 2023. She says it’s an honour to attend alongside so many accomplished surgeons.

Dr Ang is at the start of her medical journey. She recently graduated from the University of Western Australia School of Medicine and is now working her way through the clinical rotations to find her ‘calling’. Although it’s early days, she says she’s leaning towards a career in trauma surgery, ICU or anaesthetics.

Dr Ang’s winning essay analyses how the surgical profession can bring about gender equity. She examines the factors that might contribute to few women surgical interns on her rotations. She suggests that more visible women consultants who can offer their perspectives and mentoring alongside training would help advance progress for women in surgery. 

“To encourage more women in surgery, we need to acknowledge the fact that, historically, surgery has always been dominated by men,” Dr Ang says. “We must actively increase representation and make sure those women are in a position to empower subsequent generations.” 

She also thinks attitudes at work need to change around family commitments and leave—not just for women but for men as well. “There needs to be more support for pregnant surgeons and re-entry to the workforce after maternity leave.”

Dr Ang says she can see the surgical workforce slowly progressing with gender equity. Surgeons, in particular women, are being more open about their personal and family lives, reinforcing that work-life balance is possible and necessary to maintain a healthy career.  She remembers a particular consultant from her training. “She started by introducing a photo of her family. We could see that she’s an accomplished surgeon who has a young family. The message was there’s time to do both and you don’t have to choose.”

Dr Ang first became interested in medicine while growing up on Christmas Island with her family of Indonesian heritage. She found herself supporting her parents at health appointments, translating and explaining information from the doctors. 

Dr Ang, who is soft spoken, quite shy, and speaks English as an additional language, says she’s been pleasantly surprised and reassured by the level of support from senior doctors in her training so far. They have provided a great deal of carefully guided practical training, taking time to talk her through surgical skills in theatre, and helping her build confidence.

“I really like the fact that, regardless of your gender, race, or other personal factors, there’s always someone senior there taking the time to go through things with you,” she says.

Dr Ang’s advice for women considering a career in surgery is to stand strong in their interests and persevere. “Surgery can be a lot more intense than other rotations but don’t let that put you off. There will always be a way to make it work and there will always be people to support you. Then, once you become a surgeon, you will be a valuable mentor to women coming behind you.”