More women venture into neurosurgery in Singapore

ANI | Updated: Feb 05, 2018 18:22 IST

Singapore [Singapore], Feb. 5 (ANI): Turns out, more and more women are venturing into one of the last bastions of male dominance - Neurosurgery.

According to a new finding, Singapore saw its first full-fledged female neurosurgeon in 2013. As of now, there are only two full-fledged female neurosurgeons at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI). Together with three female neurosurgery residents, they make up 15 percent of NNI's pool of 33.

"Changing cultural and social norms have resulted in women making inroads into "one of the last bastions of male dominance", Ng Wai Hoe, NNI medical director, told Today Online.

The speciality remains one of the "toughest and most technically demanding surgical fields which requires exceptional physical and mental resilience," said Associate Professor Ng.

The neurosurgeons work with drills, saws and knives to slice through brains. Mere millimetres could mean a difference between life and death for their patients, and operations could take 36 hours or more.

The higher proportion of women in medical school and a larger female surgical workforce, as well as modern-day fathers being more engaged and more willing to share childcare responsibilities, have likely led to the gender breakthrough, said Associate Professor Ng.

According to figures from the National University of Singapore, just over half (52 percent) of undergraduates at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine in the current academic year are women. The proportion was 44 percent 10 years ago.

Because of the demands of the speciality, the women said passion and the support of their loved ones are crucial.

"Neurosurgery is notorious for its intensity, unpredictability and long hours. Neurosurgical training also requires a long path. It is certainly true that work-life balance may be chaotic and requires significant organisational skills, high levels of motivation and plenty of family support," said Dr Keong.

Senior neurosurgery resident Wan Kai Rui said a typical day begins before 7 am and wraps up at least 12 hours later.

Neurosurgeons don't see the sunlight often, said Dr Wan, a fifth-year resident doctor.

"Neurosurgeons are often called upon to flex not only their medical know-how but also their social skills. They must be able to convey the outcomes of a surgery realistically and tactfully", said Dr Wan.

"Having good mentors and colleagues help", said fourth-year resident Samantha Ang.

"Although most of our colleagues are male, they don't see us as any lesser. They treat us like peers and do not assume we have certain limitations just because we are female," she added.

Dr Keith Goh, the neurosurgeon in both operations, welcomed women into the speciality he calls "the hard life".

"Since half of the human population is female, I suppose there should be equitable representation in this field of medicine," he said. There are still significantly more men in neurosurgery, as with the military, he noted.

With more women in the field, patients could have more options when choosing doctors, said Dr Goh. "Sometimes female patients prefer to have a female surgeon, even though it is still debatable whether there is a 'male' brain and a 'female' brain," he said.

Dr Keong hopes to see more women taking on the challenge.

"I do not think it would take much to light this path for more females," she said. "The door is open. I just hope to see many more want to walk through". (ANI)