Female surgeons and trainees are more likely to be responsible for household activities such a childcare planning, grocery shopping, and meal planning, according to a pilot survey.

As the rates of women in the medical profession has increased so have the level of dual-professional/dual-physician relationships which presents unique challenges for working professionals including work-home conflicts which are frequently related to surgeon burnout and depression.

Dadrie Baptiste, MD, of the Indiana University School of Medicine and her colleagues conducted a pilot survey of faculty surgeons and trainees at a large university health clinic to further understand gender differences in household responsibilities. The survey was distributed 156 surgeons and 121 trainees. The response rates to the survey were high for both surgeons (81%) and trainees (96%); 77% of the surgeon respondents were men, as were 58% of the trainees. The survey gathered data on: sex, “specialty, surgical training, academic rank, academic productivity, marital status, spouse employment status, spouse profession, family size, division of household responsibilities, and career satisfaction” ( J Surg Res. 2017 Oct;218:99-107 ). The survey revealed several key differences between men and women surgeons and trainees that affected their personal and professional life.

The survey found that female surgeons are significantly more likely to be responsible for household responsibilities such as childcare planning, grocery shopping, meal planning, and vacation planning. Conversely, the men surveyed were more likely to pass these responsibilities on to their spouses.

Women were significantly more likely than men to be married to a professional (90% versus 37%, for faculty; 82%versus 41% for trainees; they were also significantly more likely to be married to a spouse who was working full time.

Female surgeons also reported significantly lower personal (mean 3.1 vs. 3.7) and work life (mean 2.7 vs. 3.5) satisfaction compared to men, Dr. Baptiste and her colleagues reported. Although female surgeons are burdened with household responsibilities, they are still managing to produce a similar number of publications to their male colleagues. Despite having a similar number of publications, women were less likely to be on track for tenure (adjusted P less than.01) and be at a lower rank despite equivalent years of practice (interaction P less than.001) than their male colleagues.Due to the increased demands on female surgeons many are more likely to delay child-bearing until completion of medical school or residency. This leads to women surgeons having fewer children (P = .04) and younger children (P less than.001).Medical trainees appear to equally divide responsibilities. Childcare planning was a shared responsibility among female trainees as well as financial planning, although financial planning was often the primary responsibility of male surgical trainees (P = .004). Although female trainees were significantly more likely not to have children (82% vs. 33% and delay childbearing until after medical school (100% vs. 46%) or residency (77% vs. 19%) compared to men. Household chores were equally shared for female trainees, but were still seen by men trainees as a spousal responsibility (P less than.001). Vacation planning was seen as entirely sex neutral among trainees.

Similar to their surgeon counterparts, female trainees reported lower work satisfaction (mean 2.9 vs. 3.4, P = .009). But, there were no differences between male and female trainees for reported personal life or work-life balance.As the number of female surgeons rises, strategies must be implemented regarding recruitment of female faculty, according to the authors. Universities such as Stanford have implemented strategies to recruit and retain female surgeons which resulted in a 74% increase in female faculty and a 66% increase in promotion of female faculty members ( Acad Med. 2014 Jun;89[6]:904-11 ).

“Implementation of research-driven changes in policies that facilitate successful career development and promotion will aid in equalizing [sex] disparities, lead to improvement in recruitment, and result in retention of the current and subsequent generations of surgeons” wrote Dr. Baptiste and her colleagues.All the authors of this study reported no financial conflicts of interest.


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