Do women make better surgeons?

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Studies have shown that women and men practise medicine differently, and now new findings suggest that that patients of female surgeons have slightly lower mortality rates.

For the study, published in the BMJ, researchers examined data on 104,630 patients treated by 3,314 surgeons (774 female and 2,540 male) between 2007-2015.

They found that patients treated by female surgeons were slightly less likely to die within 30 days, but there was no significant difference in readmissions or complications. There was also no difference in outcomes by surgeon sex in patients who had emergency surgery and results remained largely unchanged after accounting for additional factors like case mix.

The authors stressed that as the study is observational, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and they cannot rule out the possibility that the lower mortality associated with female surgeons may be due to other unmeasured factors. They said, however, that while the relative difference in mortality is quite modest (4 per cent), it has potentially significant clinical implications. They say further research is needed.

"Our findings have important implications for supporting sex equality and diversity in a traditionally male dominated profession," they conclude.