Exploring the Impact of the Surgical Exploration and Discovery (SEAD) Program on Medical Students' Perceptions of Gender Biases in Surgery: A Mixed-Method Evaluation

J Surg Educ. 2020 Dec 5;S1931-7204(20)30449-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.11.016. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Female representation in surgery is increasing; however, many surgical specialties continue to observe disproportionately fewer females entering their residencies. This study assesses how medical students' gender-based perceptions of surgical careers are impacted by attending the Surgical Exploration and Discovery (SEAD) program, a 2-week, immersive procedural program that offers observerships, mentorship, and workshops across 8 surgical specialties.

Design: In this mixed-method prospective cohort study, medical students' awareness, beliefs, and experiences of gender bias in surgery were assessed using a 10-item Gender Bias in Medical Students Assessment-Surgery (GBMSA-S) psychometric survey instrument inspired by the validated Gender Bias in Medical Education Scale (Parker et al., 2016).

Setting: Undergraduate Medical Education, Faculty of Medicine, at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Participants: Eighteen first-year medical students in the experimental group (8 male, 10 female) and 18 in the control group (7 male, 11 female).

Results: Compared to the control group, SEAD participants had significant changes in agreement with the statements: "surgery is male-dominated," "medical studies are mainly done in males," "gender discrimination is more pronounced in surgery than other medical professions," "consideration of my gender is an important factor in whether or not to pursue surgery as a career," and "I have encountered gender-biased attitudes and/or behaviors among non-physician health care staff" (p < 0.05). Perceptions of gender bias were reduced post-SEAD. Subgroup analysis by gender suggested that the significance of these changing perspectives was due to female participants' responses. SEAD also produced an increase in the level of interest in surgery (p = 0.04). Receptive and authentic dialogue was identified as a critical step toward social inclusivity (n = 11).

Conclusions: Early surgical exposure through SEAD produces a statistically significant increase in surgical interest and reduces certain perceptions of gender bias in surgery, particularly among female medical students.

Keywords: SEAD program; career; gender; surgery; undergraduate medical education.