Doctors have a rosier view of male than of female surgeons

Nov 24, 2017

MARGARET ANN BULKLEY, who became, in 1812, the first woman to receive modern surgical training, achieved that distinction by pretending to be a man. No medical school at the time admitted women. She practised under the name of Dr James Barry and performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections (successful in that both mother and baby survived). Much has changed since then, but female surgeons remain few and far between. That is especially true at the top of the profession. Among surgeons in general, about a fifth are women in America and just over a tenth in Britain. The percentage of women holding professorial chairs in surgery departments is in the single digits.

A working paper by Heather Sarsons of Harvard University suggests that one reason for this may be bias in the way other doctors refer their patients for surgery. Ms Sarsons examined surgical referrals covered by Medicare, America’s public insurance system for the elderly, that took place between 2008 and 2012. She measured how referrals from a given doctor to a given...


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