Men or Women – Who Makes a Better Surgeon?


The medical field has long been dominated by male surgeons. Historically, fewer women enrolled in surgical residency programs, and many male surgeons believed females didn’t have what it takes to make crucial decisions in the operating room. Stereotypes like this are being challenged for a reason. A new study reveals that women surgeons tend to have lower death rates, fewer complications, and fewer hospital readmissions 30 days following surgery compared to their male counterparts.

The study was published in the BMJ, reports Time. It examined more than 104,000 people in Ontario, Canada, who had surgery from 2007 to 2015. Their surgeons were also included in the research. Lead author Dr. Raj Satkunasivam, assistant professor of urology at Houston Methodist Hospital, and his colleagues from the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center took precautions to make the study as fair as possible by comparing surgeons relative to their age and experience. Patients from each surgeon were also matched to take into account more complicated cases.

The researchers found that patients who were operated on by female surgeons were 4 percent less likely to die, be readmitted, or have complications one month following surgery when compared to people whose surgeons were male.

This study reinforces another one that the Harvard School of Public Health released earlier this year. Researchers tracked a group of patients and their general internists and determined that those with women doctors were more likely to have lower death rates and less likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days compared to patients who had male doctors. Researchers concluded that women doctors engage better with their patients and are superior communicators. They make sure their patients comply with their medications and therapy. Women also tend to collaborate well with their colleagues and are more likely to follow recommended guidelines.

Experts aren’t entirely sure why female surgeons experience more positive outcomes than their male counterparts, but it may be partially due to the reasons why female general internists tend to have better results with their patients. But other factors need to be taken into account because surgery requires a certain amount of skill and surgeons have certain abilities to determine whether a patient will develop complications.

According to Satkunasivam, one of the factors is that in general, only the top women in their field end up being surgeons. Women have had to work harder to become surgeons because they are immersed in a male-dominated profession. As a result, the female surgeons in the study may represent the best of the best.

Satkunasivam explained, “If we really believe that the differences we saw among male and female surgeons is true, then what we need to do is better understand what actually is driving those differences. Once we understand those differences, we can potentially apply them to train surgeons better, and instill those qualities in all surgeons to improve outcomes for everyone.”

Satkunasivam also recommended that people choose surgeons based on research, their rapport with the doctor, and recommendations from family physicians. “You should be equally confident with a male or female surgeon,” he noted.

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