Gender differences in the learning and teaching of surgery: a literature review

Carmen M. Burgos1 and Anna Josephson2

1Division of Pediatric Surgery, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

2Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden

Submitted: 07/03/2014; Accepted: 24/05/2014; Published: 15/06/2014

Int J Med Educ. 2014; 5:110-124; doi: 10.5116/ijme.5380.ca6b

© 2014 Carmen M. Burgos & Anna Josephson. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited.

Objectives: To explore evidence concerning gender differences in teaching and learning in surgery to guide future initiatives.

Methods: This systematic review was conducted searching in the following electronic databases: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, ERIC, Web of Science, Scopus and PubMed. All studies related to gender differences in surgical education, teaching or learning of surgery at an undergraduate level were included. Data was extracted and critically appraised. Gender differences in learning, teaching, skills acquisition, perceptions and attitudes, interest on surgery, personality and factors influencing interest in surgical careers were differentiated.

Results: There is an underrepresentation of women in surgical academia, due to lack of role models and gender awareness. It is not clear whether or not gender itself is a factor that affects the learning of surgical tasks. Female students pursuing a surgical career had experienced sexual harassment and gender discrimination that can have an effect on the professional identity formation and specialty choice. There are differences in personality among female and male students interested in surgery. Gender is a determining factor to choose surgery, with a consistent lower proportion of women compared interested in pursuing a surgical career. Mentoring and personality fit are important in medical student's specialty selection. Female students are more likely to be discouraged from pursuing a surgical career by a lack of female role models.

Conclusions: Bias against women in surgery still exists. There is a lack of studies that investigate the role of women in the teaching of surgery.