Professor Michael Griffin, who is in his triennial stint as president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said patient safety was being compromised by bullying.
He says a change of culture is required among surgeons, with more needing to be done to “make it better for women” in terms of training and returning to work after giving birth.
Prof Griffin was speaking ahead of the inaugural World Patient Safety Day – an initiative started by the World Health Organisation to raise awareness and urge people to show their commitment to making healthcare safer.
He said: “In particular, if you make it better for women then you make it better for everyone.
“I say women because they are the ones who perhaps have to take time out of their career to have a family, so they need less than full-time training.
“If that training is not available for them then we lose women from the workplace and they are great surgeons.
“They have some attributes that make them more suitable for surgery than men. It’s important we encourage women in the workplace and we are trying to make it better.
“Can you imagine what it’s like being a surgeon who has taken time out to do research, who comes back after a year having done no surgery and then is expected to do an operating list a year later?
“What we have to do is make absolutely certain that kind of return to work is phased, controlled and supported and mentored.
“We’ve still got work to do in Scotland, but the health minister is absolutely behind it and we have been instrumental in getting this high on the agenda.”
Prof Griffin has worked hard to stamp out the scourge of workplace bullying through the Royal College’s #LetsRemoveIt campaign. More than 500 cases involving allegations of bullying or harassment have been raised across the NHS in Scotland over the past five years and medical leaders have warned that bullying has become rife.
Ministers have established a working group to look into the issue after problems were brought to light at NHS Highland this year.
Prof Griffin said: “In years gone by, you were expected to work ridiculous numbers of hours because that’s what the senior consultant did. It is changing and we’re making a huge difference to the workplace, but it’s not sorted yet.
“The real thrust of our college is to make the workplace better because we are getting reduced numbers of people wanting to become surgeons because the workplace is not the best place to be.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The welfare of our staff is paramount and I fully expect all NHS boards to be pro-actively doing everything to eradicate bullying in the workplace. I fully support Professor Griffin and the efforts being made by the Royal College of Surgeons to tackle bullying and harassment through the #LetsRemoveIt campaign.
“Our programme for government sets out the commitments we are taking to strengthen our governance in relation to bullying and harassment and whistleblowing, to ensure all staff feel safe, protected and able to speak out.”