Understanding the Effect of Bias on the Experience of Women Surgeons: A Qualitative Study

Document Type


Publication Date



Trauma & Acute Care Surgery

Journal Title

Journal of the American College of Surgeons

MeSH Headings

Female; Humans; Internship and Residency; Male; Physicians, Women; Qualitative Research; Sexism; Surgeons


BACKGROUND: Exploring the lived experiences of surgeons is necessary to understand the changing culture of surgery and the unique challenges of being a woman in surgery. Surgeons have significant experiences and observations best discovered through qualitative study. The purpose of this study is to identify the similarities and differences between the experiences of men and women surgeons after initiation of mandatory microaggression training. STUDY DESIGN: Qualitative semi-structured interviews with female and male surgeons and residents were done following a year-long series of training sessions on the detrimental effects of microaggression. Participants were selected using a convenience sampling method. MAXQDA coding software (Verbi) was used to evaluate interview transcripts with thematic analysis. RESULTS: Nineteen surgeons and surgical residents were interviewed. The participants were of equal gender identification, with the majority being attending surgeons. Multiple themes highlighted similarities and differences between male and female participants. Differences were noted in identification of a sensitive personality, family planning considerations, and experiences of bias. Similarities were related to the personality traits required to be successful in surgery, the sacrifice inherent to a surgical career, and the war rhetoric used to describe the comradery of residency. CONCLUSION: The challenges and rewards of surgery are similar for women and men, but women have additional stressors, including gender-based bias, microaggression, and family planning. These stressors take up energy, decreasing the mental space available for additional roles and affecting the work environment. Microaggression education can incite necessary discussions of bias and provide women with an opportunity to reflect on and share their experiences.

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