A study published recently in JAMA Surgery suggests that female surgeons may achieve better outcomes than male surgeons—and choosing a female surgeon could be even more beneficial for female patients, Nicholas Bakalar reports for the New York Times.
For the study, researchers analyzed patient records from 559,903 male patients and 760,205 female patients who were operated on by 2,937 surgeons between 2007-2019 in Ontario, Canada.
Among the male patients, about 91% had male surgeons, and 9% had female surgeons. Among the female patients, 88% had male surgeons, and 12% had female surgeons.
On average, the female surgeons in the study were younger, performed fewer surgeries, and operated on patients who were generally healthier than those operated on by the male surgeons. The researchers controlled for these differences between male and female surgeons, differences in patient characteristics, and the type of hospital in which the surgery was performed, such as a community hospital or a major academic medical center.
In their analysis, researchers looked at 21 common elective and emergency surgeries, including cardiac, orthopedic, urological, head and neck, thoracic, vascular, neurological, and plastic surgery. The analyzed operations included coronary artery bypass grafting, appendectomy, carpal tunnel release, gastric bypass, spinal surgery, thyroid surgery, and knee and hip replacement.
Overall, about 15% of the study's patients experienced post-operative complications. In particular, 8.7% of patients had significant complications within 30 days of their operation, 6.7% were readmitted to the hospital, and 1.7% died.
In addition, the researchers discovered that when the sex of the surgeon and patient were different, the surgery had a slightly lesser chance of being successful. In these cases, researchers observed an 8% increase in postoperative complications or death—but there was no difference in readmissions to the hospital. This pattern remained consistent across different types of surgery and patient characteristics.
However, researchers found that female surgeons were more successful overall than male surgeons. Notably, the worst surgical outcomes were recorded when female patients had male surgeons. In the study, when female patients were treated by male surgeon, they were about 15% more likely to experience complications, readmission to the hospital, or death within 30 days of their procedure.