A major UK news publication has published a long list of the best knee replacement surgeons, made up entirely of white men.
Would a similar list be published in Australia?
According to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Workforce Data, there were only 768 female surgeons in 2017. These women represented in very similar proportions to the UK – 12.1% of all surgeons, 27% of paediatric surgeons and 4% of orthopaedic surgeons. The reasons for low female representation in surgery are varied and still being studied, but the reality is that the demographics of the surgical workforce is changing very slowly.
Women are capable surgeons. Although it is galling that this is questioned, female competency in surgery was comprehensively demonstrated in a paper published in the British Medical Journal last year.
To summarise, this study found that the female surgeons had potentially better outcomes than men, with their patients less likely to die in the month following surgery, and no difference in the rate of complications or readmissions to hospital.
So if women are at least as good at performing surgery than men, if not better, why has a survey of doctors found that their idea of the ‘best’ surgeons is universally male, and a white male at that?
Unconscious bias plays a large role in this. Affinity bias is a tendency to warm to people like yourself, and largely forms the basis of corporate hiring practices that prioritise making sure than an individual is a ‘good fit’.