Sexism Keeping Women From Surgical Careers

Many are turned off by the O.R.'s 'male culture,' study finds

TUESDAY, April 18, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The view of surgery as an "old boys' club" and negative perceptions of the "surgical personality" may deter many women medical students from choosing surgery as a career, a U.S. study finds.

Background information in the article noted that more general surgeons will be needed in the United States in the future, but fewer medical students are entering surgery residencies. Currently, women account for about half of students entering medical school in the United States, and women have historically been less likely to choose surgery as a career.

Reporting in the April issue of the Archives of Surgery, researchers at the University of Vermont analyzed survey responses from 298 Vermont doctors and medical students.

Sixty-four percent of the male respondents and 53 percent of the female respondents said they'd been interested in a surgical career before their surgical rotation. They were asked to select the top three deterrents to a surgical career.

Here's what the study found:

  • 46.7 percent of female medical students and 20.4 percent of male medical students perceived sex discrimination in surgery;
  • Among all the respondents, 21.6 percent of men and 4.4 percent of women were deterred by the diminishing rewards of surgery;
  • 49 percent of men and 28 percent of women cited workload issues;
  • 66.7 percent of men and 47.8 percent of women cited family concerns;
  • 83.3 percent of women and 76.5 percent of men worried about lifestyle during residency;
  • 40 percent of women and 21.6 percent of men were deterred by their view of the "surgical personality;"
  • 22.2 percent of women and 3.9 percent of men were discouraged by the perception of surgery as an "old boys' club."

Lifestyle concerns need to be addressed to attract both women and men to surgery, the study authors concluded.

"However, our results also suggest that there exists a male culture in surgery that needs to be confronted because it is a significant factor deterring women from a career in surgery. Surgery remains a 'macho field,'" they authors noted. "Surgeons need to critically assess the nature of their interactions with students, and provide an environment more conducive to women."

More information

The American Medical Student Association offers a close-up look at women surgeons.

Robert Preidt

Robert Preidt

Updated on November 19, 2007

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