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Patients Have Better Outcomes with Female Surgeons

Originally published by Ian Sample for The Guardian

People who are operated on by female surgeons are less likely to experience complications and need follow-up care than when males wield the scalpel, according to two major studies that suggest male surgeons have important lessons to learn.

Doctors in Canada and Sweden reviewed more than 1m patient records from two separate medical registers and found that patients seen by female surgeons had significantly better outcomes with fewer problems in the months after the operation.

The researchers are investigating potential reasons for the differences, but the records suggest that female surgeons tend to operate more slowly and may achieve better results by taking their time in the operating theatre.

Dr Christopher Wallis, who led one of the studies at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, said the findings should prompt male surgeons to reflect on their approach to surgery and learn from female colleagues for the benefit of their patients. “As a male surgeon, I think these data should cause me and my colleagues to pause and consider why this may be,” he said.

Wallis’s team looked at medical complications, readmission to hospital, and death rates after surgery in nearly 1.2 million Ontario patients between 2007 and 2019. The records included 25 different surgical procedures on the heart, brain, bones, organs and blood vessels.

The analysis, reported in Jama Surgery, showed that 90 days after an operation, 13.9% of patients treated by a male surgeon had “adverse post-operative events”, a catch-all term that includes death and medical complications ranging from problems that require further surgery to major infections, heart attacks and strokes. The equivalent figure for patients seen by female surgeons was 12.5%.

Patients seen by female surgeons fared better one year after surgery too, with 20.7% having an adverse postoperative event, compared with 25% of those seen by male surgeons. When the doctors looked purely at deaths post-surgery, the difference was even starker: patients treated by male surgeons were 25% more likely to die one year after surgery than those treated by female surgeons.

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