Women Surgeons' Perspectives on System-level Strategies to Address Interpersonal Workplace Conflict

Ann Surg. 2021 Mar 1;273(3):494-499. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000004074.


Objective: We sought to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current methods for conflict resolution and the ways in which women surgeons would prefer workplace conflicts to be adjudicated.

Summary of background data: Interprofessional workplace conflicts are poorly studied, particularly for women in surgery. These conflicts may negatively impact surgical team dynamic and be detrimental to patient safety. Moreover, workplace conflicts and their management are a proposed driver of decreased professional satisfaction and achievement. How women surgeons experience workplace conflicts and how these are managed remains unexplored.

Methods: We conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with women surgeons across the United States who had experienced workplace conflict that resulted in action by a nonphysician. Surgeons were diverse with respect to demographics, specialty, and institutional settings. Through thematic analysis using NVivo, we analyzed and reported patterns within the data.

Results: Although the majority of women asserted resilience in how they engage with these situations, many also cited ways in which these events could better be adjudicated. Recommendations included (1) more direct conflict resolution, (2) more transparency in reporting processes, (3) greater opportunity to address complaints, (4) explicit policies for events that repeatedly result in workplace conflict, and (5) divorcing interpersonal complaints from patient safety reporting mechanisms.

Conclusion: This study motivates and informs best practices around adjudication of workplace conflict to help protect women surgeons and nonclinicians. Going forward, best practices should include more objective criteria for how conflicts are adjudicated. Continued efforts at an institutional level are needed to help mitigate inequities against women surgeons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Women / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surgeons / psychology*
  • United States
  • Workplace*