The percentage of female surgeons has been steadily growing over the past 50 years across most of the developed world. This is not only great for equality, but also because if you have a female surgeon, you are less likely to die within a month of your operation.
A large-scale study found that patients who had been operated on by a female surgeon were a whopping 12 percent less likely to die during the following 30 days of recovery.
The researchers, from the University of Toronto, looked at 104,630 patients who had surgery between 2007 and 2015. Patients were matched to eliminate variables such as other conditions, age, sex, and income. Surgeons were also matched in terms of age and experience, as well as the number of surgeries they perform and the hospital they work at.
With all these variables accounted for, the researchers found that female surgeons were better at keeping their patients alive during the 30 days following an operation.
Despite female medical practitioners being just as competent as men, sexism against female doctors, surgeons, and anesthetists continues around the world. This man, as the Telegraph reports, refused to be operated on when he discovered his anesthetist was a woman.
Dr Raj Satkunasivam, who led the study, said that the difference could be because of the way women deliver care.
“Women and men practice medicine differently, although little research exists on the differences in learning styles, acquisition of skills, or outcomes for female and male surgeons,” the authors wrote.
“We don’t know the mechanism that underlies better outcomes for patients treated by female surgeons, although it might be related to delivery of care that is more congruent with guidelines, more patient-centered, and involves superior communication.”
The research, published in the British Medical Journal, also found that fewer patients treated by female surgeons were readmitted to hospital within that timeframe, or had other complications, however, these differences were not found to be statistically significant.
So if you have a choice of surgeon, should you opt for a woman?
“Surgery is a specialty that continues to struggle with unconscious bias among patients and health professionals, and gender inequality persists,” The Royal College of Surgeons responded in an editorial.
“This study helps to combat […] lingering biases by confirming the safety, skill, and expertise of women surgeons relative to their male colleagues.”
However, they stress that “with so many critical factors to consider, trying to find out why there is a very small difference in short-term clinical outcomes between male and female surgeons is unlikely to prove worthwhile.”
“Nor are we convinced that the sex of the surgeon will emerge as an important determinant of a good outcome for patients having surgery.”