Perceptions on gender disparity in surgery and surgical leadership: A multicenter mixed methods study

Karla Bernardi, Puja Shah, Nicole B. Lyons, Oscar A. Olavarria, Zeinab M. Alawadi, Isabel M. Leal, Julie L. Holihan, Barbara L. Bass, Colleen E. Jakey, Lillian S. Kao, Tien C. Ko, Paul C. Kuo, Michele M. Loor, Feibi Zheng, Mike K. Liang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Our objective was to identify perceptions of the environment for women in surgery among 4 academic institutions. Methods: Faculty surgeons and senior surgery residents were randomly selected to participate in a parallel study with concurrent quantitative and qualitative data collection. Outcomes were perceptions of the environment for women in surgery. Measures included semi-structured interviews, survey responses, and responses to scenarios. Results: Saturation was achieved after 36 individuals were interviewed: 14 female (8 faculty, 6 residents) and 22 male (18 faculty, 4 residents) surgeons. Men (100%) and women (86%) reported gender disparity in surgery and identified 6 major categories which influence disparity: definitions of gender disparity, gaps in mentoring, family responsibility, disparity in leave, unequal pay, and professional advancement. Overall 94% of participants expressed concerns with gaps in mentoring, but 64% of women versus 14% of men reported difficulties finding role models who faced similar obstacles. Over half (53%) reported time with loved ones as their biggest sacrifice to advance professionally. Both female and male respondents expressed system-based biases favoring individuals willing to sacrifice family. A global subconscious bias against the expectations, abilities, and goals of female surgeons were perceived to impede promotion and advancement. Conclusion: Both female and male surgeons report substantial gender-based barriers in surgery for women. Despite improvements, fundamental issues such as lack of senior role models, limited support for surgeons with families, and disparities in hiring and promotion persist. This is an opportunity to make substantive changes to the system and eliminate barriers for women joining surgery, advancing their careers, and achieving their goals in a timely fashion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-750
Number of pages8
JournalSurgery (United States)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Faculty, Medical
  • Female
  • General Surgery
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Perception
  • Physicians, Women
  • Sexism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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