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New England Surgical Society

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Understanding the Mitigating Factors and Protective Qualities Needed to Become and Remain as Women Surgeons
Bridget Olsen, Caitlin Gutheil, Elizabeth Blazick, Sara Mayo, Elizabeth Turner, James Whiting, sivana Barron
Surgery, Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine, United States

Objective. Exploring the lived experiences of surgeons is necessary to understand the changing culture of surgery and the unique challenges of being a woman in surgery. Surgeons have significant experiences and observations best discovered through qualitative study. The purpose of this study is to identify the similarities and differences between the experiences of male and female surgeons after the initiation of mandatory microaggression training.
Design. A qualitative thematic semi-structured interview design. MAXQDA coding software was used to evaluate interview transcripts.
Setting: Large tertiary care medical center.
Participants. Female and male surgeons and surgical residents selected using a convenience sampling method.
Intervention. A year-long series of trainings on the detrimental effects of microaggressions, and potential responses to them.
Main outcome measures. Outcomes will be presented as overall themes discussed by the participants.
Results. Twenty surgeons and surgical residents were interviewed. The participants were of equal gender identification with a majority being attending surgeons. Multiple themes highlighted similarities and differences between male and female surgeons and trainees. Large differences were noted in the identification of a sensitive personality, self-identified need to be "better," family planning considerations, and the experiences of bias. Similarities were related to the personality traits required to be successful in surgery and the sacrifice inherent to a surgical career.
Conclusions. The challenges and rewards of surgery are similar between women and men though women have additional stressors including gender-based bias, microaggressions, and family planning. These stressors take up energy, decreasing the mental space available for additional roles and impacting the work environment. Microaggression education can incite necessary discussions on bias and provide women with an opportunity to reflect on and share their experiences.


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