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Is balancing work & domestic chores still a challenge for women surgeons? 27/05/2019

Inequalities in procedural specialties: is balancing work and domestic chores still a challenge for women surgeons? by O.Sgabura, MD, PhD.


This month JAMA Network advertised a series of articles dedicated to female medical practitioners in the different journals of its portfolio.

The event was inspired by Mother’s Day. Four of these articles appeared in JAMA Surgery and were focused on childbearing and domestic chores.

The most recent publication is called Association of Domestic Responsibilities With Career Satisfaction for Physician Mothers in Procedural vs Nonprocedural Fields.

It is a survey study based on 1712 female physician responders recruited from an online closed community.

Of the respondents in this group, most were partnered or married (99,6%) and about a quarter were in procedural specialties (27%).

Most of the women physicians had sole responsibility for one of these tasks: routine child care plans, back-up child care plans, cooking, grocery shopping, children’s clothing shopping, vacation planning, helping with homework and laundry.

The spouses were more likely to have sole responsibility for home repairs, finances and automobile maintenance.

Female physicians with more than five responsibilities were compared to those having less than five depending on their specialty subtype.

Women in procedural specialties were more often married to a physician or a surgeon and more likely to contribute to more than 50% of the household income.

Nevertheless, for those who were responsible for more than five domestic tasks, they experienced more often than any other category a desire to switch to a less demanding career.

This desire was not present in non-procedural specialties.

Unequal distribution of domestic labor has already been incriminated for underrepresentation of women in academic leadership positions and slow career advancement in a study from 2011.

This recent data however suggests that little has changed in the domestic field.

The paper benefits from the comments of Julie A. Freischlag, a trailblazer in surgery who served as professor, chair of the surgery department and surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Prof Freischlag has engaged in mentoring women surgeons for more than 15 years and continues to advise women to seek help for tasks they do not want to do.

Prof Freishlag urges women surgeons to be flexible, creative, adjust and listen to feedback from family and the professional environment.

While this is ultimately good advice, it may not be relevant into practice without support from both the family and the professional environment.

The fact that the domestic chores problems persist after almost a decade of gender-equality education in medicine proves that behavioral change needs more effort from the community.

It is the role of women surgeons all over the world to support each other but it is also the role of enlightened male leaders in the profession to be #HeforShe.


Profile: O. Sgarbura, MD, PhD

Dr Sgarbura is a trailblazing female surgeon with a speciality in Peritoneal cancer at the Cancer Institute of Montpellier, France.

She is an active member of the European Society of Surgical Oncology and regularly writes about pressing issues related to Women in Surgery. She can be followed on twitter: @oliviawriting

Dr Sgarbura will be present for the new 'Women in Surgery' session during the Scientific Symposia for ESSO 39.

The new 'Women in Surgery' session will begin Friday the 11th of October at 9:30 am and will be Chaired by Dr Isabel-Teresa Rubio (SP) and Dr Peter Naredi (SE).

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