Attitude and perceptions of the other underrepresented minority in surgery

J Surg Educ. 2014 Nov-Dec;71(6):e47-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2014.05.008. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


Objective: To perform a national climate survey of general surgery residents regarding attitudes and perceptions of the influence of sexual orientation on the training experience.

Methods: A cross-sectional voluntary online survey was distributed to all Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education-accredited general surgery programs. Residents self-identified as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Descriptive statistics were performed. For the purposes of further analysis, respondents were classified as heterosexual or LGBT. Demographic characteristics and survey responses were examined by sexual orientation using the Fisher exact test.

Results: Of 388 resident respondents, 10 identified as lesbian (2.6%), 24 as gay (6.3%), and 9 as bisexual (2.4%). More than 30% of LGBT residents did not reveal their sexual orientation when applying for general surgery residency owing to fear of not being accepted. No statistical differences were found between LGBT and heterosexual residents regarding future career plans, happiness at work, good program fit, and rapport with fellow residents. Although no differences were found in relationship status between LGBT and heterosexual residents, more LGBT residents reported feeling uncomfortable openly discussing their spouse/partner with fellow residents (36% vs 3.0%, p < 0.001) and with surgical attending physicians (59% vs 9.3 %, p < 0.001) when compared with heterosexual peers. Additionally, LGBT residents felt more uncomfortable bringing their spouse/partner to formal surgery department events (42% vs 2.7%, p < 0.001). Among all respondents, 54% (n = 206) witnessed homophobic remarks by nurses and residents and 30% (n = 114) by surgical attending physicians. Of LGBT residents, 57% reported actively concealing their sexual orientation from fellow residents owing to fear of rejection and 52% from surgical attending physicians owing to fear of poor evaluations. LGBT residents reported experiencing targeted homophobic remarks by fellow residents (21%) and by surgical attending physicians (12%). None of the surgical residents who experienced directed homophobic remarks reported the event to their supervisors for reasons including fear of reprisal (13%-17%), not wanting to create more "trouble" (25%-50%), and a belief that nothing would be done about the event (17%-25%).

Conclusion: Now, more than ever, issues related to sexual orientation have been at the forefront of political and public attention. No data exist that explore how these issues affect the training experience of general surgery residents. Our study showed that although there was no difference overall in reported work happiness or program fit, LGBT residents reported a greater need to conceal their personal lives from their surgery program peers and attending physicians. Whether these differences affect patient care, team work, career satisfaction, and personal cost of surgical training warrants further study.

Keywords: Interpersonal and Communication Skills; Professionalism; Systems-Based Practice; residency experience; sexual orientation; surgical education; surgical residents.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Bisexuality
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education*
  • General Surgery / statistics & numerical data
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexuality* / psychology