Cultural barriers for women in surgery: How thick is the glass ceiling? An analysis from a low middle-income country

Document Type



Cardiothoracic Surgery; Surgery; Medical College Pakistan; General Surgery; Neurosurgery; Urology; Nephrology; Ophthalmology


Background: This study aimed to highlight cultural barriers faced by surgeons pursuing a surgical career faced by surgeons at a tertiary care hospital in Pakistan. As more females opt for a surgical career, barriers faced by female surgeons are becoming increasingly evident, many of which are rooted in cultural norms. In Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim-majority, low middle-income country, certain societal expectations add additionally complexity and challenges to existing cultural barriers.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was administered via e-mail to the full-time faculty and trainees in the Department of Surgery at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, Pakistan, from July 2019 to November 2019.
Results: In total, 100 participants were included in this study, with the majority being residents (55.6%) and consultants (33.3%). 71.9% of female surgeons felt that cultural barriers towards a surgical career existed for their gender, as compared to 25.4% of male surgeons (p < 0.001). 40.6% of females reported having been discouraged by family/close friends from pursuing surgery, as compared to only 9.0% of males (p < 0.001). Moreover, a greater percentage of females surgeons were responsible for household cooking, cleaning and laundry, as compared to male surgeons (all p < 0.001). Lastly, 71.4% of female surgeons felt that having children had hindered their surgical career, as compared to 4.8% of males (p < 0001).
Conclusion: Our study shows that significant cultural barriers exist for females pursuing a surgical career in our setting. Findings such as these emphasize the need for policy makers to work towards overcoming cultural barriers.


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World Journal of Surgery