Gender bias persists in medicine, including surgery, study finds

Doctors talking
In a new study, healthcare professionals associated women with family rather than career. (Getty/wmiami)

Healthcare professionals, including surgeons, have both implicit and explicit biases when it comes to gender and career roles, according to a new study.

Those biases translate to associating men with careers and surgery, while women are associated with family and family medicine, according to the study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers reviewed the results of nearly 43,000 healthcare professionals, including 131 surgeons, who took an Implicit Association Test, which was designed to measure unconscious gender biases.

The study showed both male and female participants were more likely to associate men with careers and women with families.

The researchers also looked more closely at biases within the surgical field, where women are underrepresented and face significant barriers to career advancement. Among the 131 surgeons who participated in the study, researchers found both implicit and explicit bias associating men with surgery and women with family medicine.

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“Awareness of the existence of implicit biases is an important first step toward minimizing their potential effect,” the study authors said.

In an accompanying commentary, surgeons Fahima Dossa, M.D. and Nancy N. Baxter, M.D., said acknowledging gender bias may help to diversify the surgical field. “The results of the [tests] appear to tell a clear and consistent story of ongoing gender bias in surgery that likely manifests in ways that affect the career success of women,” they wrote.

The research comes at the same time as the healthcare industry is seeing more women than men enrolled in medical school, a trend that began in 2017 and has continued.