New Research Shows That The Sex Of A Patient’s Surgeon Could Make A Difference

Female Surgeons Matter

A report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that the likelihood of a woman receiving radiation therapy after a lumpectomy increased when she had a female surgeon, even though radiation is considered a standard of quality care and shown to reduce breast cancer recurrence and mortality.

While factors like age, race, and proximity to a radiation treatment center factor into whether or not a woman receives radiation, researchers at Columbia University found 79% of patients who had a female surgeon were more likely to receive radiation treatment (as compared to 73% of patients who had a male surgeon).

Currently, there are no clear answers as to why patients with female surgeons are more likely to get therapy than those with male surgeons. Researchers hypothesize there may be a difference in the nature of doctor-patient relationship depending on the doctor’s sex. They also believe sex related differences in communication style may be part of the reason patients are more likely to seek out radiation therapy.

More specifically, in the field of urology, where there is a distinct lack of female surgeons (despite there being an uptick – 34 women in 1981 to 512 women in 2009), there is a hypothesis being made that female patients prefer female surgeons. This idea may simply come from women urologists being categorized into caring for primarily female patients. However, reports in obstetric and primary care literature documents a preference by female patients for female practitioners.

While there is no study about practitioner gender preference in urology, a new investigation published in The Journal of Urology found that the proportion of female patients treated by female urologists was at least 1.65 times higher than the number of female patients treated by male urologists. 

Investigators looked at six-month case logs of 6,166 certifying urologists from 2003 to 2012. These logs included 1,011,800 cases. Results showed that female surgeons perform a higher proportion of gender neutral procedures (procedures that are done on both female and male patients) on female patients compared to male surgeons performing these procedures on female patients (54% vs 32% female patients, respectively). This trend for female surgeons remained consistent for each individual gender neutral procedure that was assessed.

For female specific procedures, research showed the surgical volume was higher for female surgeons, while the surgical volume was higher for male surgeons with male specific procedures. Male urologists, on average, performed three times as many vasectomies and over twice as many prostatectomies as their female colleagues.

“Our results are consistent with data from other specialties suggesting that female patients may gravitate toward female physicians,” stated Dr. Oberlin, lead investigator of this study, “Women are pursuing medical careers in numbers equal to that of men. As the number of women physicians going into urology grows, increasing attention to practice pattern discrepancies and gender biases is needed to better appreciate how these disparities will shape the clinical landscape.”

Kari Cowell
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