Lead author Dr Christopher JD Wallis, an assistant professor of urology at the University of Toronto, said there was no reason to believe there was a difference in technical skill between male surgeons and feminine. Rather, he suggested, part of the problem may lie in differing communication styles and how doctors speak to male and female patients.
The study’s second author, Dr. Angela Jerath, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Toronto, said that when working as an anesthesiologist with a female surgeon, the atmosphere in the operating room tends to to be different, more collegial, which can foster better communication and improve teamwork.
“Female surgeons ask me more questions,” she said. “Maybe women are more collaborative. Maybe they are more detail oriented. Perhaps they are more meticulous. We cannot answer these questions with our data.
Dr Wallis said that after surgery too, doctors can treat men and women differently.
“We know women’s pain doesn’t get as much credit as men’s pain,” he said. “In postoperative care, it can be complex. To some degree, pain is an expected result of surgery, but it can also suggest an early sign of a complication. Physicians need to be able to read symptoms and at the same time have a demeanor that invites patients to present information in a way that averts problems before they arise.
It is not only in surgery that the sex of the doctor and the patient can make a difference. There are many studies, Dr. Wallis said, showing that in various specialties higher death rates occur when male doctors treat female patients. As an example, he cited a 2018 study that found higher mortality among female heart attack victims treated by male doctors.
Dr. Jerath had some advice for his colleagues. “I wish surgeons could take a step back,” she says. “Be thoughtful – something is happening here. Let’s look at this and be open to solutions.