Women 32% more likely to die if operated on by male surgeon, study suggests

Women operated on by a male surgeon are more likely to die following treatment than if a female doctor performs the procedure, a new study claims.

With a man carrying out the procedure, women have a 32 per cent chance of death and are 15 per cent more likely to suffer a bad outcome, the research published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery showed.

Surgery is a male-dominated profession and it has been suggested “implicit sex biases” could be behind the results. In Britain, nearly nine in 10 senior surgeons are men.

Dr Angela Jerath, co-author of the research and associate professor and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said: “We have demonstrated in our paper that we are failing some female patients and that some are unnecessarily falling through the cracks with adverse, and sometimes fatal, consequences.”

She explained women are more likely to experience complications and be readmitted to hospital when a man performs a procedure. They are also 20 per cent more likely to have to stay in hospital longer.

Meanwhile men experience similarly good outcomes regardless of their surgeon’s gender, the study showed.

The research, believed to be the first of its kind, analysed the records of 1,320,108 patients who underwent 21 common procedures, from appendix removals to brain surgery.

The operations were performed in Ontario by 2,937 surgeons between 2007 and 2019.

In one example, 1.4 per cent of women died after having a cardiothoracic operation carried out by a male surgeon. That proportion dropped to 1 per cent with a female surgeon.

Dr Jerath suggested several possible explanations for the results,The Guardian reported, including “deeply ingrained” subconscious biases and differences in approaches and communication skills.

She said: “These results are concerning because there should be no sex difference in patient outcomes regardless of the surgeon’s sex.”

Dr Amalia Cochran, who co-wrote a commentary accompanying the study, said it was “yet another reason why as a profession we must be intentional about having a workforce that is representative of the patients we care for and in which we foster belonging for all workforce members”.


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