Statistics on the Number of Women Surgeons in the United States

Why is it tough to increase the number of women in surgery?


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Despite ongoing efforts in medical schools and professional organizations, the number of women in surgery remains low with specialties such as orthopedic surgery taking even more profound hits. Although numbers are increasing, they're not increasing at as rapid a rate as the industry would like.

Women in Surgery in 2009

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (11/09/09) "More women appear to be aiming for careers in surgery, long considered the last bastion of male-only medicine."

  • There are approximately 160,000 surgeons in the United States: only 19 percent are women;
  • The number of women surgeons only rose 7% between the period 1970 through 2008; yet
  • In 2008, almost half of the 42,200 applicants to medical schools in the United States were women.
  • In 2008, U.S. Department of Labor Statistics projected employment of physicians and surgeons to grow 14 percent from 2006 to 2016.

Trends and Changes

According to the Association of Women Surgeons, as of 2015:

  • Women constitute 8% of Professors, 13% of Associate Professors and 26% of Assistant Professors of Surgery.
  • 19.2% of American surgeons are women

Some of the issues challenging women surgeons are the same as those challenging women in leadership positions across the spectrum. Specifically, they include:

  • Women facing greater work/life balance challenges than men, as they attempt to bear children while also going through grueling training processes and maintaining intense work schedules;
  • Ongoing pay deficits between women and men for same or similar services, even when identical educational backgrounds and skills are represented;
  • Even with an increase in women in academic and leadership positions, it is difficult for women to find mentors and support as they apply for and make their way through medical school.

    A Positive Perspective on the Future

    2015-2016 President of the Association of Women Surgeons, Dr. Amalia Cochran, gave a speech on the status of women in positions of leadership in medical schools. Her perspectives on statistical change:

    "...The most recent data that's available to us does show that 8 percent of full professors of surgery are women and sixteen percent of associate professors of surgery are women so we are still sorely underrepresented at the more senior levels of surgical education and academic surgery in the United States."

    She continues hopefully,

    "However, the one place where we've seen tremendous growth even in the last three years has been in the number of chairs of departments of surgery. In 2014 we started the year with four women chairs of departments of surgery in the United States and I'm delighted to share that as of February 29 of this year we now have 14 women who have been appointed to chairmanships in the US.

    Cochran concludes her speech echoing the same hopeful message carried forward by trailblazing women in physician studies since the days of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell,

    "This obviously represents a dramatic increase in our numbers and it's a very exciting time for women in leadership. I'm very hopeful that during the course of my professional lifetime we will reach a point where a woman surgeon is simply a surgeon."