Career satisfaction of women in surgery: perceptions, factors, and strategies

J Am Coll Surg. 2010 Jan;210(1):23-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2009.08.011. Epub 2009 Oct 2.


Background: With the current and projected shortages of general surgeons, more attention is being paid to the increasing pool of women physicians. This study seeks to understand the variables leading to career satisfaction for women surgeons to better recruit, retain, and support them.

Study design: Eighteen semi-structured interviews of 12 female and 6 male surgeons 2 to 12 years into practice were qualitatively analyzed and converted to coded, categorized data. Significance was derived by Fisher's exact test. Participants were recruited by snowball sampling.

Results: Our sample represents a highly satisfied group of female and male surgeons. Although both women and men describe with equal frequency having made career tradeoffs for personal and family time, and vice versa, women far more frequently than men cite reasons related to their personal time, predictable time, and family relationships as why they are currently satisfied with their career (34.1% versus 8.7%; p < 0.05). Both cite being satisfied by career content equally. When describing strategies used in developing a successful surgical career, women most frequently cite social networks as a key to success (88% versus 12% by men; p < 0.05), and men more frequently cite reasons related to training (29% versus 0% by women; p < 0.05) and compensation (24% versus 0% by women; p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Although both men and women make tradeoffs of career for family and family for career, women's perception of satisfaction comes from viewing their surgical career within the broader context of their lives. Women might be attracted to a career that acknowledges and values the whole person beyond the surgeon, and could benefit from work infrastructures that enhance networking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Cohort Studies
  • Family
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Workforce