Background: Although women make up nearly half of medical school classes in the United States, just over 20% of residents in surgery are women (excluding obstetrics/gynecology). The objective of this study was to identify whether the proportion of women surgeons on the faculty who have frequent encounters with medical students during their surgery rotation influences the student's perceptions about women surgeons or their career choice.
Methods: Seven US medical schools with proportions of women surgeons on the fulltime faculty varying from 10% to 40% were selected to participate in this survey. Women medical students graduating in the spring of 2000 were asked to complete an anonymous 29 question survey designed to assess their perceptions of women surgeons' career satisfaction. Demographic information about the students such as career choice, age, and marital status was also collected. The differences in responses between those schools with 40% women faculty and those with less than 15% were analyzed.
Results: The overall response rate was 74% (305 of 413). Forty-five percent of students had daily or weekly contact with a woman surgery attending. There were no differences in perceptions of women surgeons' career satisfaction for those students at schools with 40% women surgeons versus those with less than 15%. However, 21 of 24 (88%) students choosing surgery as a career were from the three schools with a greater number of women surgical role models (P <0.0001). Students who chose a career in surgery perceived the women faculty's career satisfaction to be higher than did those students not choosing a surgical career (P <0.01).
Conclusions: Women medical students perception of women surgeons' career satisfaction did not appear to be affected by the proportion of women surgeons on the faculty at their medical school. However, their choice of surgery as a career was strongly associated with a higher proportion of women on the surgical faculty.