Factors influencing medical students in pursuing a career in surgery: a cross-sectional survey

  • A.J. Scott
  • D Kahn


Background: Many factors play a role in the decision of a medical student to pursue a career in surgery. With a decline in numbers of applications into surgical programmes seen globally, the aim of this study was to determine the factors that influence medical students in pursuing a career in surgery.

Methods: A descriptive, cross-sectional survey was distributed online to all medical students studying at a tertiary, academic institution. Survey items obtained data on demographics, surgical interest and training, as well as factors affecting a surgical career.

Results: A total of 245 medical students responded, of which 56% were female. The majority (69%) stated they were interested in pursuing a career in surgery. Despite 75% of respondents stating South Africa was a good place for surgical training, females reported significantly higher levels of agreement that surgical training would be better overseas when compared to males (p = 0.027). Overall, 20% were undecided on what surgical specialty they would pursue. The largest proportion of respondents (33%) stated that ‘Length of training’ was the main barrier to pursuing a career in surgery. Thirtythree (13.5%) respondents reported ‘Female-unfriendly’ as a barrier, of whom all were female. The greatest motivator to pursuing a career in surgery was ‘Hands-on work’, stated by 36% of respondents.

Conclusions: Though length of surgical training was deemed the principal barrier, the majority of students indicated they would pursue a career in surgery. Despite continued perceptions that surgery poses a female-unfriendly environment as a career, respondents held South African surgical training in high esteem, and were motivated by a clinically hands-on approach. These factors may play an important role in determining methods of improving numbers of surgical applications worldwide.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2078-5151
print ISSN: 0038-2361