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The BMJ study compared outcomes for patients undergoing one of 25 surgical operations by female surgeons with patients undergoing the same procedures by male surgeons. The doctors were the same age, with similar levels of experience. A total of 104,630 patients were treated by 3,314 surgeons over the study period. All patients came from hospitals in Ontario.
Patients treated by female surgeons were four per cent less likely to die in the 30 days after an operation, says Dr. Raj Satkunasivam, a Canadian and a surgeon at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas. Satkunasivam was the lead author of the study.
“We have good evidence to support the notion that female surgeons are at least as good and possibly better than their male counterparts,” says Satkunasivam, but he cautions that “we don’t want to send the message that, as a patient, you should favour one sex over the other.
“I do not think that based on this study, Canadian patients should change their care-seeking behaviour based on the sex or gender of their surgeon. But I think it is great to see a deepening of our awareness of sex and gender in health care services research,” Martin says.
The study also looked at complications and readmissions, but no significant differences were found for patients of female and male surgeons.
The study is observational, meaning the researchers can’t establish causes for the differing outcomes. But co-author Dr. Chris Wallis, a urology resident at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, has a theory.
“Female physicians tend to communicate better than men. They also tend to follow guidelines more closely than men do in medicine in general. It’s possible that those differences in the way that men and women interact with patients, interact with their colleagues, may also contribute to the differences that we’re seeing in this study,” he says.