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02-08-2011 | Article

Female surgeon numbers increasing, affecting career choices


Free abstract

MedWire News: French study results show an increase in the numbers of female medical students choosing a career in surgery, and gender is associated with how and where residents expect to work in the future.

The researchers believe part of the reason for the increase in female surgical resident numbers could be because "surgical specialties have made efforts to become attractive to women."

They add: "The reduction of working time, the availability of part-time jobs, and the opportunity to rest after exhausting and tiring shifts, are all recent developments of modern Western medical training that may have attracted women to the field."

Morgan Rouprêt (University Paris VI) and colleagues assessed the increasing presence of women in the surgical field, and what influence gender had on specialty choice and activity in a cohort of 779 French surgical residents aged a mean 28 years.

All participants completed an electronic questionnaire documenting sociodemographic and working habit information. The male to female ratio in the cohort was 1.1, with 52.5% male and 47.5% female residents.

Female residents were significantly younger than males, at 27.6 versus 28.8 years, proving "their greater involvement in medical studies, with less repetition and failure," says the research team.

All surgical specialties included in the questionnaire, such as ophthalmology, vascular and thoracic surgery, neurosurgery, urology, gynecology, and plastic surgery, were represented in the responses.

The mean number of working hours per week reported was 67, emphasizing how "obsolete" the European legal limit of 48 hours is, write Rouprêt et al in the American Journal of Surgery.

Of note, however, female residents reported a significantly shorter mean working time per week than male residents, at 65 versus 69 hours, but this could indicate that women "overreport" work hours less frequently than their male colleagues, suggest the researchers.

Female residents were significantly more frequently registered in gynecology than male residents, at 35% versus 7%, and the same was true for ophthalmology (15% vs 6%) and pediatric surgery (6% vs 3%). The latter association between gender and specialty was only borderline significant.

In contrast, male residents were significantly more likely to specialize in orthopedic surgery, urology, and neurosurgery than female residents.

Women were significantly less likely to be engaged or married compared with their male counterparts (58% vs 69%), leading the authors to hypothesize that "women probably agree to shift the construction of their private life to learn surgery."

Finally, female residents were significantly less likely to have changed their geographic location between medical studies and residency compared with men (52% vs 61%), and more female residents expected to work in a public hospital in future (52% vs 40%).

"The upcoming hegemony of women in the medical demography is likely to revolutionize the practice and organization of the surgical profession in the very near future," conclude Rouprêt and co-authors.

By Sarah Guy