Women surgeons have lower death rates than men, study finds

13:44 • 11.10.17

Female surgeons were thought to be more skilled, better at following guidelines and superior at communicating with other staff, researchers said.

They found patients operated on by women were 12 per cent less likely to die. 

The study compared outcomes for patients undergoing one of 25 surgical procedures by a female surgeon with those having the same operation from a man.

A total of 104,630 patients and 3,314 surgeons were involved and it took place at a hospital in Ontario, Canada, between 2007 and 2015. 

The results showed women surgeons had slightly lower death rates than men, with their patients 12 per cent less likely to die.

This difference was very small – with only one extra death for every 230 procedures at the hands of male surgeons compared with women.

And patients treated by men were no more likely to suffer further complications or need to be admitted back to hospital.

Nonetheless, the findings do back up previous studies which had found women doctors were far less likely to be struck off than male colleagues. 

The authors from the University of Toronto speculated that the care of female surgeons was more “patient centred”, in line with guidelines' and involves “superior communication”.

There is also evidence that they take fewer risks than men and are more inclined to ask for help from colleagues if things go wrong. 

Professor Clare Marx, the former president of the Royal College of Surgeons and Professor Derek Alderson, the current president, said the findings would help dispel 'an unconscious bias' among patients – and staff – against women doctors. 

“This study helps to combat these lingering biases by confirming the safety, skill, and expertise of women surgeons relative to their male colleagues,” they wrote in an editorial accompanying the study in the BMJ.

But they urged patients not to worry about the sex of their surgeon. They added they were not “convinced that the sex of the surgeon will emerge as an important determinant of a good outcome for patients having surgery”.

Research in 2015 found that female doctors were two and a half times less likely to be struck off or sued for negligence than men. 

Experts have speculated that women doctors work harder because they feel obliged to prove themselves.

The study claims women are less likely to take risks and their care is more 'patient-centred', but researchers stress the difference in fatality rates are very small and patients shouldn't worry about the sex of their surgeon 


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