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UCL Surgical Society’s Women in Surgery Conference won Best National Event at the National Societies and Volunteering Awards – and we’re very proud.

With 300 nominations from forty-four institutions across 12 categories, UCL Surgical Society beat tough competition to win the National Event of the Year award at the National Societies and Volunteering Awards, held on Wednesday 6 May.

What was the purpose of the event?

58% of medical students in the UK are women, yet only 12.9% of consultant surgeons are female. Currently, little is being done by medical schools to close this gender divide and challenge the misconceptions about surgery.

There is no other event which directly addresses the lack of mentorship for women pursuing surgery; the conference has been used to propel a movement which is only continuing to grow from strength to strength.

Feedback from the delegates showed that the majority found the conference to be instrumental in changing their misconceptions about surgery and showing them that gender is not a barrier when pursuing a career in surgery. 39% of the female students believed that having a family would negatively impact their surgical careers; following the panel, workshops and mentoring at the conference, this number was reduced to only 20.9%.

Through the launch of the UCL Surgical Society Women in Surgery mentoring scheme, they have facilitated a long-term relationship between the students and surgeon mentors, ensuring that the relationships initiated at the conference are maintained for the foreseeable future.  

What made this event exceptional?

67% of the delegates felt that the lack of female mentors available had prevented them from pursuing a career in surgery; to address this, the conference ran a unique and innovative ‘Speed Mentoring’ session which follows the same format of speed dating, but with surgeons! Students had the rare opportunity to be mentored by over 60 female surgeons who shared an array of backgrounds, ethnicities and surgical specialities. This idea has now been replicated throughout countless medical schools across the UK.

The conference was successful in raising awareness about women in surgery and using innovative methods to approach the topic. The Conference Director was invited to speak at a National Scientific Meeting for the Egyptian Medical Society, as the first ever undergraduate to do so since 1985. The impact of the conference was also recognised by Imperial College London, who published an article highlighting the impact of the event and the Confederation of British Surgeons who approached them inviting them to lead a collaboration on their new gender equality campaign, which is currently in its preliminary stages.

How did this event make a difference to students?

The conference panel discussion had an outstanding selection of 5 inspirational panellists. It provided a comfortable atmosphere for potentially sensitive topics surrounding surgical careers to be discussed in a delicate, yet open and honest manner. This included Dr Houriya Kazim - the first female surgeon in the United Arab Emirates - who travelled from Dubai to attend the conference, making UCL the first UK university she has spoken at.

In the space of a year, the conference grew to become not only the largest undergraduate conference of its kind in the UK, but also one of the most impactful; the influence of the conference on the students has lasted far beyond the event itself.

Leading from data collected from attendees of the conference, the committee are currently conducting a nationwide study overseen by the Women in Surgery Chair at the Royal College of Surgeons. This will ensure that the impact of the conference lasts for years to come and will also help to change the future of surgical training.