Gender and academic promotion of Canadian general surgeons: a cross-sectional study

CMAJ Open. 2020 Jan 28;8(1):E34-E40. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20190090. Print 2020 Jan-Mar.


Background: Gender disparities in faculty rank have yet to be studied among Canadian physicians. The purpose of this study was to determine whether differences in region, training, research productivity and years in practice explain gender differences in academic promotion among Canadian general surgeons.

Methods: We developed a cross-sectional database of faculty-appointed general surgeons practising in the hospitals affiliated with the 17 universities within the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada in 2017 using publicly available directories, university and hospital websites, and direct communication. The data were collected between October and December 2018 and included gender, residency completion year, graduate education, fellowships, number of publications and Scopus h-index; faculty lists and professorship status were verified by program administrators or division heads of their respective divisions. The dependent variable was binary: full professor or not. A combined outcome of associate or full professor was also analyzed. We analyzed all variables in a multivariable logistic regression model.

Results: Of the 17 institutions contacted, all but 1 confirmed the faculty lists and professorship status. A total of 405 surgeons were included, of whom 111 (27.4%) were women. Sixty-eight women (61.3%) and 120 men (40.8%) were assistant professors, and 9 women (8.1%) and 75 men (25.5%) were full professors. Although on average women had completed residency more recently than men (15.2 yr v. 19.2 yr, p < 0.001), there was no difference between men and women in the mean number of publications as residents (2.98 v. 2.74, p = 0.7) or per year of practice (3.12 v. 2.09, p = 0.2), number of fellowships pursued (p = 0.7) or graduate education (p = 0.2). In the multivariable model (C-statistic = 0.88), gender remained significantly associated with full professorship (odds ratio 2.79, 95% confidence interval 1.13 to 6.92), along with years in practice (odds ratio 1.61, 95% confidence interval 1.13 to 2.30).

Interpretation: After controlling for years in practice, training and research productivity measures, we found that female surgeons with faculty appointments in Canada were less likely than their male counterparts to receive promotion to full professor. Pervasive inequities in systems of promotion must be addressed.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes
  • Canada
  • Career Mobility*
  • Efficiency
  • Faculty, Medical
  • Female
  • General Surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians, Women
  • Publications
  • Sex Factors
  • Surgeons*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires