Where Are the Women in Orthopaedic Surgery?

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Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research


© 2016, The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons®. Background: Although women account for approximately half of the medical students in the United States, they represent only 13% of orthopaedic surgery residents and 4% of members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Furthermore, a smaller relative percentage of women pursue careers in orthopaedic surgery than in any other subspecialty. Formal investigations regarding the gender discrepancy in choice of orthopaedic surgery are lacking. Questions/purposes: (1) What reasons do women orthopaedic surgeons cite for why they chose this specialty? (2) What perceptions do women orthopaedic surgeons think might deter other women from pursuing this field? (3) What role does early exposure to orthopaedics and mentorship play in this choice? (4) What professional and personal choices do women in orthopaedics make, and how might this inform students who are choosing a career path? Methods: A 21-question survey was emailed to all active, candidate, and resident members of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (RJOS, n = 556). RJOS is the oldest surgical women’s organization incorporated in the United States. An independent orthopaedic specialty society, RJOS supports leadership training, mentorship, grant opportunities, and advocacy for its members and promotes sex-related musculoskeletal research. Although not all women in orthopaedic practice or training belong to RJOS, it is estimated that 42% of women AAOS fellows are RJOS members. Questions were formulated to determine demographics, practice patterns, and lifestyle choices of women who chose orthopaedic surgery as a specialty. Specifically, we evaluated the respondents’ decisions about their careers and their opinions of why more women do not choose this field. For the purpose of this analysis, the influences and dissuaders were divided into three major categories: personal attributes, experience/exposure, and work/life considerations. Results: The most common reasons cited for having chosen orthopaedic surgery were enjoyment of manual tasks (165 of 232 [71%]), professional satisfaction (125 of 232 [54%]), and intellectual stimulation (123 of 232 [53%]). The most common reasons indicated for why women might not choose orthopaedics included perceived inability to have a good work/life balance (182 of 232 [78%]), perception that too much physical strength is required (171 of 232 [74%]), and lack of strong mentorship in medical school or earlier (161 of 232 [69%]). Respondents frequently (29 of 45 [64%]) commented that their role models, mentors, and early exposure to musculoskeletal medicine were influential, but far fewer (62 of 231 [27%]) acknowledged these in their top five influences than they did the more “internal” motivators. Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the largest study of women orthopaedic surgeons regarding factors influencing their professional and personal choices. Our data suggest that the relatively few women currently practicing orthopaedics were attracted to the field because of their individual personal affinity for its nature despite the lack of role models and exposure. The latter factors may impact the continued paucity of women pursuing this field. Programs designed to improve mentorship and increase early exposure to orthopaedics and orthopaedic surgeons may increase personal interest in the field and will be important to attract a diverse group of trainees to our specialty in the future.





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