Female Surgeons Have Better Outcomes Than Male Surgeons, Studies Show

Two new studies out of Canada and Sweden suggest that patients operated on by female surgeons are less likely to face future complications or require follow-up care than those treated by male surgeons. 

The cohort study, published in JAMA Surgery, examined over one million records from two different medical registries of adult patients who underwent one in 25 common elective or emergency surgeries between 2007 and 2019.

Behind the research

The first study looked at patients in Ontario, Canada and found a total of 151,054 patients were treated by a female surgeon and 1,014,657 were treated by a male surgeon. Patients treated by male surgeons were 2.4 percent more likely to die within one year of surgery compared to 1.6 percent percent of patients who were operated on by a female surgeon.  

The research also found that 90-days post operation,13.9 percent of patients operated on by a male surgeon experienced either re-admission to the hospital, post-operative complications or ‘adverse postoperative outcomes’ that included death. However, only 12.5 percent percent of patients treated by a female surgeon experienced similar outcomes. 

Most research in surgery looks at short-term outcomes, Christopher Wallis, MD, PhD, and co-author of the study told MedPageToday. However, his team wanted to get a better understanding of the longer recovery trajectories.

“Our goal is not to blame,” Dr. Wallis told MedPage Today. “Our goal is to really understand surgical care delivery, so that we can improve care for all patients who are treated by all physicians. The first obvious statement to make is that we can’t just switch and have all surgery performed in the U.S. or Canada tomorrow be done by female surgeons. We just don’t have the workforce to do that. And so the real question is why?” 

Why women surgeons have better patient outcomes

The differences in outcomes are not inherent to a physician’s gender, but rather connected to how they practice, says Dr. Wallis.

The second study examined 150,000 patients in Sweden who underwent surgery to remove their gallbladder, also known as a cholecystectomy. The study was composed of 849 female surgeons and 1,704 male surgeons, and found that patients who were operated on by female surgeons experienced ‘fewer surgical complications’ while also having ‘significantly longer operation times,’ than their male counterparts.

The study concluded that female surgeons operated at a slower rate than male surgeons. This was because they were less likely to switch from laparoscopic or the means of making small incisions with the aid of a camera to open surgery, which is a much more invasive approach. 

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