Female surgeons are really showing up their male counterparts.
“In some countries there is a general belief that male surgeons are superior to female surgeons,” Dr. My Blohm, who conducted one of the studies at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told The Guardian. “Interestingly, most previously published studies indicate that female surgeons are at least as good as male surgeons, or as in this case even slightly better.”
Blohm and colleagues reviewed the outcomes of gallbladder removal surgeries for 150,000 patients. They found that patients treated by male surgeons had longer hospital stays and suffered more complications than those treated by female surgeons. Blohm said these findings – published in Jama Surgery – are likely a result of surgical technique, as the female surgeons operated more slowly than their male colleagues and were less likely to take risks.
In the second study, Dr. Christopher Wallis and colleagues at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto reviewed the records of nearly 1.2 million patients in Ontario. The records included 25 different surgical procedures that took place between 2007 and 2019. The results, also published in Jama Surgery, determined that 13.9 percent of patients treated by male surgeons suffered from complications requiring further treatment, as compared to 12.5 percent of those treated by female surgeons.
When looking at post-surgery death rates, researchers found an even wider gap; according to records, patients operated on by men were 25 percent more likely to die one year after surgery than those operated on by women.
Despite this, female surgeons have been historically underrepresented in the U.S. – and in certain specialties like orthopedic and thoracic surgery, they have made up less than 10 percent.
“We have a so-called leaky pipeline with diminishing numbers of women in senior positions,” Wallis told The Guardian.
Studies have shown female surgeons are less likely to be given opportunities like referrals and high-complexity cases. This is often due to an outdated idea that women are incapable of performing surgeries at the same skill level as men, and the perception of surgery as an “old boys’ club.”
Even though female surgeons were a smaller subset in both studies – the Toronto study compared the records of 700 female surgeons to those of 2,306 male surgeons – it’s difficult to ignore their results, which were significantly more positive than those of their male counterparts.
“As a male surgeon, I think these data should cause me and my colleagues to pause and consider why this may be,” Wallis said.
Wallis also encouraged his male colleagues to use these results as “a moment for introspection” by listening to their female counterparts and watching how they operate. “Men and women differ in how they practice medicine,” he said. “Embracing or adopting some practices that are more common among female physicians is likely to improve outcomes for my patients.”