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Nevertheless, She Persisted: Women Face Unique Obstacles When Pursuing Surgery as a Specialty

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Anya Romanowski, MS, RD

The Role of Gender and Perception in Surgical Specialty Choice
In the United States and abroad, there is a growing public reckoning over the routine discrimination and harassment that many women have faced in the workplace. The field of surgery has not been immune to these larger upheavals. Although surgery remains a male-dominated field, more women are choosing to enter this profession.[1]

Medscape spoke with Dr Aurora Pryor, professor of surgery and division chief of bariatrics, foregut, and advanced gastrointestinal surgery at Stony Brook Medicine (Stony Brook, New York), and Kristie Price, a medical student at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, about their research on gender-based perceptions of surgeons and subsequent influence on choosing a surgical subspecialty.

Medscape: A 2010 study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons[2] found that the most influential factors in general surgery residents’ specialty choice were type of procedures and techniques, exposure to positive role models, and ability to balance work and personal life. What did your survey find?[3]

Kristie Price

Kristie Price: While traditionally there aren’t many women in surgery in general, we noticed that there are particular surgical specialties that appear to have less female representation. In seeking to figure out why, we observed that there are gender-based differences in how surgeons advise medical students.

In our survey, we asked surgeons what surgical specialties they would recommend to men versus to women. What we found was that the top five specialty lists were different for men and women.

The top five list of surgical specialties for women was breast, ob/gyn, plastic, ophthalmology, and general surgery, whereas for men it was orthopedics, general surgery, urology, vascular, and neurology.

Another interesting example we observed was in cardiovascular surgery: 50% of surgeons said that this specialty was open only to men.

We think that the influence of mentorship plays a large role. If you have a mentor who thinks that a particular specialty is open to one gender only, that would largely influence whether you choose to pursue that specialty.

Aurora D. Pryor, MD

Medscape: You also asked members of the American College of Surgeons whether they advise trainees to take time off to have kids. The majority of both male and female respondents said “no.” Why do you think that is?

Aurora D. Pryor, MD: What was interesting to me is that we had some respondents from outside of the United States, and I think they are much more open to both men and women taking time off for kids. We’re just a little more career-focused and not as family-oriented in the States.

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