Statistics on the Number of Women Surgeons in the United States

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

Female Surgeon
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Despite ongoing efforts in medical schools and professional organizations, the number of women in surgery is relatively low. It's even lower in specific specialties such as orthopedic surgery. Yes, the numbers are increasing, but not at a rapid rate.

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 160,00 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:

  1. Currently, there are 18 women Chairs of Surgery Departments in the United States.
  2. Women constitute 8% of Professors, 13% of Associate Professors and 26% of Assistant Professors of Surgery.
  3. 19.2% of American surgeons are women

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

  • The reality that women face more work/life balance issues than men, as they attempt to bear children while also going through a grueling training process and maintain an intense work schedule;
  • The ongoing fact that women are paid less than men for similar work, even when they have identical educational backgrounds and skills;
  • The fact that 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

    Dr. Amalia Cochran is a recent president of the Association of Women Surgeons. In 2016, she gave a speech on the status of women in positions of leadership in medical schools; here are 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. 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. This obviously represents a dramatic increase in our numbers and it's a very exciting time for women in leadership.

    Even today, though, Cochran is still echoing the same message heard in decades past. She ends her speech by saying: I'm very hopeful that during the course of my professional life time we will reach a point where a woman surgeon is simply a surgeon."