Public Release: 

Survey shows gender differences are factor when surgeons in training choose a subspecialty

Many factors may influence whether a general surgery resident pursues a subspecialty as a career choice, but women think about lifestyle more than men

Weber Shandwick Worldwide

CHICAGO (November 9, 2007) - A gender difference exists among surgeons who choose a surgical subspecialty, particularly when they evaluate the factors that may influence their career choice, according to results of a new survey published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. The survey revealed that a significantly higher percentage of women than men were influenced by their perception of the lifestyle associated with their career choice. These findings suggest that general surgical residency programs might improve efforts to recruit women for subspecialty training by addressing the perception of the lifestyle associated with choosing a subspecialty surgical career.

"Typically, surgery has been viewed as having an uncontrollable lifestyle with higher work hour demands. However, it is becoming evident through similar types of surveys that both men and women are placing a higher priority on personal and family time and seeking ways to shape their careers to accommodate these desires," said Jaime H. McCord, MD, general surgery resident at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Over the past 20 years, the number of women has increased across many medical fields, including general surgery. Yet despite these advances, of the approximately 26,300 practicing general surgeons in the US, only 12 percent are women.

"The field of surgery and the majority of surgical residencies have been implementing changes to improve the "lifestyles" of surgeons. That's why it is important for surgeons, both male and female, to model a balanced lifestyle to medical students and promote it in surgical residents if we are to continue to recruit high caliber women, as well as men, into surgery, and especially subspecialty fields," McCord added.

The University of Wisconsin general surgery residency program developed and distributed via email a 32-item Web based survey to 99 graduates (74 respondents) between the years 1985 and 2006. The survey contained matrix questions, contingency questions, scaled responses and open questions designed to evaluate the factors that most influenced a resident's decision to pursue fellowship or subspecialty training. Of the 74 respondents, 58 were men and 16 were women. The mean age of the respondents was 40 years (range 31 to 52 years), and 95 percent were married or partnered, with an average of 1.9 children.

There was a significant difference between genders in those practicing general surgery versus subspecialties, with 69 percent of women and 36 percent of men responding that general surgery was their current field (p=0.02) and the rest currently practicing in a specialized area of surgery.

More than 70 percent of respondents indicated that the following factors were either important or very important when choosing future subspecialty training: interest in the field, intellectual appeal of field, an influential mentor, and clinical opportunities in that field. Among all possible factors queried, only lifestyle was significantly more important to women versus men graduates when choosing their future career (69 percent [11 of 16] versus 43 percent [25 of 58], respectively; p=0.03).

Other results for women and men respondents focused on research exposure during residency (basic science, 38 percent versus 40 percent; clinical, 56 percent versus 61 percent, respectively; p>0.05); fellowship training (38 percent versus 69 percent, respectively; p=0.04); and academic practice setting (27 percent versus 46 percent, respectively; p=0.2).

For the majority of factors there was no significant difference in the response rates for men and women.

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About the American College of Surgeons

The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and to improve the care of the surgical patient. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 72,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit www.facs.org.

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