Gender Disparity Among Surgical Peer-Reviewed Literature

J Surg Res. 2020 Apr;248:117-122. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2019.11.007. Epub 2019 Dec 26.


Background: Women remain under-represented in academic surgery despite increasing percentages of female surgeons and surgery residents. Publications and leadership positions are used for hiring and promoting academic surgeons. We sought to determine the disparity of female authorship when compared with male authors in surgical peer-reviewed publications.

Methods: PubMed was searched for surgical publications from the United States. Obstetrics and gynecology was selected as a control specialty owing to its history of high female representation. Thirteen other surgical specialties were randomly selected from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education specialty list. Manuscripts from four time periods, 2000-2005, 2006-2010, 2011-2015, and 2016-2017, were randomly selected, and the gender of the first and last authors was determined. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and Association of American Medical Colleges databases were used to determine women representation in surgery. Trends were assessed using the Cochran-Armitage test.

Results: In total, 560 manuscripts in 14 specialties were reviewed. In the control specialty, 51% of first authors were female compared with 18% of those in study specialties, and 39% of last authors were female compared with 11% of those in study specialties. No difference was found when comparing the gender of first (P-value = 0.393) and/or last authors (P-value = 0.281) with the proportion of female residents and attendings.

Conclusions: Women surgeons publish research at a rate proportional to the number of females involved in that specialty. Disparities in leadership roles are unlikely explained by differences in publications. Instead, disparities are likely due to other reasons such as failure to attract women to academic surgery and failure to promote and mentor women surgeons into leadership positions.

Keywords: Disparities in leadership; Disparities in research; Female surgeon; Gender disparity; Women representation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Authorship*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Journal Impact Factor
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Physicians, Women*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sexism
  • Surgeons*