Having a female surgeon means that you are less likely to die within a month of your operation, according to a large-scale study by the University of Toronto.
Although statistically the percentage of female surgeons has been gradually rising over the past 50 years across most of the developed world, surgery remains a male-dominated specialty in Ireland.
While more than 50 per cent of medical graduates are female, just 34 per cent of surgical trainees are women, and less than 7 per cent of consultant surgeons are women.
In a report produced by RCSI’s (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Working Group on Gender Diversity in July of this year, the lack of access for women to high quality surgical fellowships, working conditions during pregnancy, and supports available to those returning to work after absence were identified as the primary barriers to female progress in the profession.
Chair of the Working Group Ms Deborah McNamara, Consultant in General and Colorectal Surgery, Beaumont Hospital, commented on these figures: “If surgery is less appealing to women than to men, we need to know why and remove the obstacles”.
The Canadian-based study indicated that patients who were operated on by a female surgeon were 12 per cent less likely to die over the course of the 30 days of post-surgery recovery.
The introduction stated: “Surgical disciplines are disproportionately male despite increasing numbers of female medical students. Gender equity in the surgical profession, including disparities in compensation and promotion, is a growing concern.
“Assessing outcomes for female and male surgeons is important for combatting implicit bias and gender schemas that might perpetuate current inequalities”.
Currently, just 15 per cent of consultant surgeons in Ireland are female.
Dr Ailín Rogers, lead non-consultant hospital doctor in Beaumont for the surgical directorate, revealed that she continues to experience difficulties in her field of work due to her gender at the ‘Definitions of Success’ seminar, co-hosted by the IMO and the Bar of Ireland in June of this year.
“Because I’m a woman a certain generation will often completely discount me”, she stated, speculating that one of the reasons for the greater drop-off of women after they have made it through training to surgical consultancy might be due to the necessity to do a fellowship abroad.
The research to support these statistics consisted of following 104,630 surgery patients between 2007 and 2015, who were matched so that variables such as other conditions, age, sex, and income were eliminated.
Furthermore, surgeons were matched in terms of age, experience, by the average number of surgeries they perform, and by their hospital of employment.
Dr Raj Satkunasivam, who led the study, speculated that the gap could owe to the delivery of care by the female surgeons, while the study itself noted that, although women and men practice medicine differently, there is little research relating to differences in learning styles, acquisition of skills, or outcomes for female and male surgeons.
The research, which is available in the British Medical Journal, also discovered that less patients of female surgeons were readmitted to hospital or had other complications within that timeframe but not to a statistically significant degree.