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Study: "Men Make Better Surgeons, Women Are Better As Family Physicians"

Discussion in 'Doctors Cafe' started by Hadeel Abdelkariem, Jul 8, 2019.

  1. Hadeel Abdelkariem

    Hadeel Abdelkariem Golden Member

    Apr 1, 2018
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    Most doctors – both male and female – say men make better surgeons and women are more suited to family medicine, a new study found.



    The research, by Washington University in St Louis, exposes a deep-rooted gender bias in the medical field that may partly explain why there are fewer female surgeons, and women are consistently paid less than their male peers in medicine.

    The team studied 42,000 doctors’ responses to a recognized bias test, and found most of them associated men with ‘career’ and ‘surgery’, and women with ‘family’ and ‘family medicine’.

    Women were far less likely than men to explicitly pair ‘men’ with ‘career’ or ‘surgery’, but when tested on their instinctive reactions (timing their reactions to certain words and associations) both men and women tended to lean that way, and associate women with family.

    The bias test is not perfect – it can depend heavily on the person’s mood, energy levels, comfort, and more – but the study has been hailed as a robust snapshot of how surgeons’ own preconceptions could be curtailing women in surgery.

    The research, by Washington University in St Louis, exposes a deep-rooted gender bias in the medical field that may partly explain why only 20 percent of surgeons are women (file image)

    Scores of studies (here, here, here, and here, for example) have documented gender bias in medicine – from how likely women are to be promoted, to what kind of feedback they receive, to whether they will push for a position in a traditionally male-dominated specialism.

    And it’s reflected in the field.

    Less than 20 percent of US surgeons are women, data show.

    In orthopedic surgery, one of the most lucrative areas of medicine, men make an average of $370,000 a year, while women make around $320,000, according to a recent study.

    Efforts have been made to close the gender gap by holding more conferences on the issue, and urging hospitals and schools to recruit more women.

    But researcher Dr Arghavan Salles, MD, PhD, wanted to look at how surgeons’ own perceptions may hamper those efforts, and her results are published today in JAMA Network Open.

    She surveyed 131 surgeons, and compared their responses to 42,000 doctors’ survey responses to an implicit bias test, which was designed researchers at Harvard, Washington and Virginia Universities.

    It assesses how strongly a person associates certain words with each other by presenting said words and timing their response to say whether they are strongly associated or not.

    By the end, the respondent is given a score of ‘slight’, ‘moderate’, or ‘strong’ to assess how biased they are.

    The researchers also tested each person’s explicit bias, asking them in their own time to pair words together.

    The implicit bias test showed little differences between the groups: both men and women instinctively associated men with career and women with family. The explicit test showed a divide: women were more likely to present an even playing field.

    In an editorial published with the study in JAMA, two surgeons Drs Fahima Dossa and Nancy Baxter – of the University of Toronto and St Michael’s Hospital respectively – say the study adds to the efforts to understand where sexism lies in medicine.

    ‘Notably, Salles et al demonstrate that this is not an external phenomenon—surgeons themselves hold biases that may affect the progression of women within the profession,’ they write.

    Dr Salles and her team say more research is needed to analyze how implicit bias manifests itself, and to go deeper than gender, to look at the biases faced by women of ethnic minorities.

    To start tackling the issue, they call for ‘increasing transparency of hiring and promotion policies, considering diversity as a performance metric for organizations, and promoting flexible leave all serve to increase the success of female physicians and trainees.’


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