Women in surgery: do we really understand the deterrents?

Arch Surg. 2006 Apr;141(4):405-7; discussion 407-8. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.141.4.405.


Hypothesis: Women are deterred from a surgical career owing to a lack of role models rather than lifestyle considerations.

Design: Survey.

Setting: University teaching hospital.

Participants: Surgery and obstetrics/gynecology attending physicians, residents, and medical students.

Intervention: Questionnaire.

Main outcome measures: Potential deterrents to a surgical career.

Results: Men and women had a similar interest in a surgical career before their surgical rotation (64% vs 53%, P = .68). A similar percentage developed a mentor (40.0% vs 45.9%, P = .40). Women were far more likely to perceive sex discrimination (46.7% vs 20.4%, P = .002), most often from male attending physicians (33.3%) or residents (31.1%). Women were less likely to be deterred by diminishing rewards (4.4% vs 21.6%, P = .003) or workload considerations (28.9% vs 49.0%, P = .02). They were also less likely to cite family concerns as a deterrent (47.8% vs 66.7%, P = .02) and equally likely to be deterred by lifestyle during residency (83.3% vs 76.5%, P = .22). However, women were more likely to be deterred by perceptions of the "surgical personality" (40.0% vs 21.6%, P = .03) and the perception of surgery as an "old boys' club" (22.2% vs 3.9%, P = .002).

Conclusions: Men and women are very similar in what they consider important in deciding on a surgical career. Women are not more likely to be deterred by lifestyle, workload issues, or lack of role models. However, the perceived surgical personality and surgical culture is a sex-specific deterrence to a career in surgery for women.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Career Choice*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Organizational Culture
  • Physicians, Women / psychology*
  • Specialties, Surgical*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workforce
  • Workload