University of Toronto Study Finds Significant Gender Bias in Referrals to Surgeons

Gender bias persists when it comes to physicians referring patients to surgeons, according to a new study, led by Fahima Dossa, a general surgery resident at the University of Toronto

The study analyzed nearly 40 million referrals to 5,660 surgeons in Ontario and found that the differences in referral volumes and types could not be explained by patients’ choices or by characteristics of the surgeon, such as age or experience.

The study found that male surgeons in Ontario made up 77.5 percent of all surgeons but received 79 percent of referrals from female physicians and 87 percent of referrals from male physicians from 1997 to 2016. Dr. Dossa told the CTV Network that “what’s important to keep in mind as we frame these discussions is that these biases are not being manifested just by men, that both men and women in our study show this, both men and women do carry these biases.”

Elizabeth Shaughnessy, professor and vice chair of patient experience in the University of Cincinnati’s department of surgery in the College of Medicine, a breast cancer surgeon, and president of the Association of Women Surgeons, said the study shows less obvious forms of gender discrimination continue in medical settings.

“We’re seeing it in its more subtle forms which is far more difficult to identify and eradicate, which is disturbing to us because as women surgeons, we certainly suspect that this has been going on for a while and this just helps to confirm certain suspicions,” Dr. Shaughnessy said.

The full study, “Sex Differences in the Pattern of Patient Referrals to Male and Female Surgeons,” was published on the website of JAMA Surgery. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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