Men in Black

Courtesy of flickr user Gaetan Lee

Courtesy of flickr user Gaetan Lee

Academic Surgical Congress; Ft. Myers, Florida

It turns out that I didn’t need to wear that red sweater to stand out in the crowd of surgeons today at the Academic Surgical Congress.  My gender was enough.  I spent the day surrounded by men in black suits—OK, so some were navy and charcoal too.

It’s not that there weren’t any female surgeons present; it’s just that there was an overwhelming preponderance of men.  I’ve posted before on certain specialties drawing more of one gender than another.  Why are men drawn to more technical specialties, like surgery; while women are drawn more to less technical disciplines, like pediatric psychiatry?

Anyone else noticed this too?  Have any theories?

—Kerri Wachter

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Men in Black

  1. Heidi Splete

    Maybe the preponderance of male surgeons is a consequence of the male urge to fix something that’s broken, and the satisfaction of immediate results, vs. having to wait longer to see the results of an intervention.

    On a similar note: Fashion in medical specialties. I have also noticed that the surgeons like their suits and ties. I’m also entertained to see the pediatricians in their sneakers (some with their knitting in hand) and the sports medicine guys in their golf shirts (featuring golf course or team affiliation of choice). One thing I can’t figure out is how the women at any of these meetings who show up in sleeveless tops and sandals keep from freezing. I guess they must slip outside between speakers. Or they just have good circulation.

  2. Sherry Boschert

    It’s not necessarily the “technical” nature of a specialty that leads to a preponderance of males vs. females in it. I think many women are just as drawn to that aspect as males. But consider these factors: Extra-long resident training years and extra-long hours in these specialties that can conflict with desires to have a family (in women or men, though it can be more acute for women because of the biological clock). Sexism in our society that prioritizes women and mothers taking on more responsibility and work in a family than men do, so that men can work outside the home. And the still-existing sexism and female-unfriendly attitudes and structures within surgical training programs.

    After I’d been through my wife’s 4 years of medical school, she was considering being a surgeon because she really enjoyed surgery. I took a look at the 5-7 years of resident training for surgery that would make her virtually absent from our relationship and our home and said, “No can do. You choose — surgery or me.” We’ve always strived to have a balanced relationship. She chose me and internal medicine, and went on to become an AIDS expert. But how many women would make the demand that I made to their husbands? How many men would change career plans because they prioritize pulling their weight in their relationships and their home, instead of expecting their wife to simply support them?

  3. Joyce Frieden

    At the risk of being accused of sexism, I wonder if another factor has to do with the amount of human contact in the various specialties. Most — though not all — of surgeons’ time spent with patients occurs after the patient has been put under, and I do think there’s some truth to the notion that women generally enjoy the talking and bonding that goes into the doctor-patient relationship [dare I say it] maybe a little more than men. That kind of bonding seems to occur more in the primary care specialties.

  4. Alicia

    Sherry’s right on it. The reason cited by female surgeons in surveys is zero family time. What that says about men, I won’t venture here. By the way, did you know the inventor of Playmobil figures died yesterday? I believe those are Playmobil men in black in your photo.

  5. Kerri Wachter

    Most likely, as with everything, it’s likely a combination of factors that drive more women into “softer” medicine and more men into “technical” medicine. From my own perspective as a never-married woman, the family element would never have entered into my equation. Working on my chemistry degree though, it was challenging at times to be the only woman in the room. Best bet is that both of these—-super-mom syndrome and the old boys club— are at play in the gender divide in certain medical specialities.

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