Pregnancy among women surgeons: trends over time

Arch Surg. 2012 May;147(5):474-9. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.2011.1693.


Background: Women compose half of all medical students but are underrepresented in the field of general surgery. Concerns about childbirth and pregnancy during training and practice are factors that may dissuade women from electing a career in surgery.

Objective: To assess experiences related to childbirth and pregnancy among women general surgeons.

Design: Survey questionnaire.

Setting: Self-administered survey sent individually to women surgeons in training and practice.

Participants: Women members of the Association for Women Surgeons or the American College of Surgeons who graduated from medical school and practice general surgery or a general surgery subspecialty.

Main outcome measures: Descriptive data on the timing of pregnancy and perception of stigma attending childbirth and pregnancy as experienced by women surgeons, according to date of medical school graduation (0-9 years since graduation, 10-19 years, 20-29 years, and ≥ 30 years). The survey response rate was 49.6%. Trends over time were evaluated using comparisons of proportions and the Cochrane-Armitage trend tests across age cohorts.

Results: The perception of stigma associated with pregnancy during training remained large but decreased from 76% in the most remote cohort to 67% in the most recent graduation cohort (P<.001). External influences, even women resident colleagues, were perceived as evincing negative instead of encouraging attitudes toward childbearing during residency, though less so than men, both resident colleagues and faculty. Frequency of pregnancy and pregnancies earlier in training increased over the time cohorts.

Conclusions: The number of women general surgeons becoming pregnant during training has increased in recent years; however, substantial negative bias persists. Although the overall magnitude of perceived negative attitudes is greater among male peers than female peers and among faculty than peers, even women residents hold negative views of pregnancy among their colleagues during training. More than half of all women surgeons delay childbearing until they are in independent practice, post-training. Surgical residents and faculty of both sexes exerted negative influences with regard to consideration of childbearing. There was also a trend toward increased childbearing in more recent graduates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians, Women / trends*
  • Pregnancy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors