Nov 1, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

While women and men are relatively equal in terms of medical school attendance, research indicates that women doctors earn less than their male counterparts. At least partly to blame for the disparity, according to a recent Bloomberg article based on the findings of a survey conducted by researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital? Fewer women choosing surgical residencies which lead to higher-paying jobs due to incompatibility with family life. Here’s a closer look at the research, along with what it means for women in surgical careers.

Diagnosing the Disparity

Women account for 44 percent of the US’s medical residents. However, while women make up the majority of certain residencies (such as pediatrics where they comprise two-thirds of all residents), they make up just 36 percent of all surgical residents. This number drops even lower in the lucrative subspecialty of orthopedic surgery: Just 14 percent of orthopedic surgical residents are women.

Says trauma surgeon and study author Erika Rangel, “There is still this gender gap in our field, and we have a low proportion of female surgical faculty in the US.”

Correcting Course

To what can the disparity be attributed? According to Rangel, “There is a perception that the field isn’t compatible with the desire to have a family.” 

More specifically, the research links negative “perceptions on work schedule during pregnancy, maternity leave duration and policies, lactation and childcare support” with decreased interest in surgical careers after childbirth among women.

And while perceptions are evolving, experts are calling for additional changes aimed at bridging the gap. Concludes the paper, “The challenges of having children during surgical residency may have significant workforce implications. A deeper understanding is critical to prevent attrition and continue recruiting talented students.  This survey is an important step in characterizing these issues to help design interventions to support childbearing “


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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