If you could choose between a male or a female surgeon, who would you pick? Does your surgeon's gender even matter? According to a new study by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), it does.
Patients who are operated on a by a woman are less likely to die in the month after surgery, according to the study, which reviewed all the 104,630 people who had surgery between 2007 and 2015 in Ontario, Canada.
Fewer patients treated by female surgeon were readmitted to hospital, had serious complications or died within 30 days of having surgery than those who were operated on by men, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto found.
The risk of dying within a month after having surgery was 12% less if the surgeon was female.
One of the researchers, Dr Raj Satkunasivam, said that the exact reason for female surgeons performing better is unknown, but suggested that they may be more careful in following guidelines and communicating with patients.
"We don't know the mechanism that underlies better outcomes for patients treated by female surgeons, although it might be related to delivery of care that is more congruent with guidelines, more patient centred, and involves superior communication," he said.
In 2016, 58% of students accepted to study medicine or dentistry in the UK were female, but only 11% of surgeons at the time were women, according to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
RCS President Derek Alderson said patients should not choose a surgeon based on their gender.
"Surgery is a specialty that continues to struggle with unconscious bias among patients and health professionals, and gender inequality persists," he said.
"This study helps to combat these lingering biases by confirming the safety,skill, and expertise of women surgeons relative to their male colleagues. However with so many critical factors to consider, trying to find out why there is a very small difference in short term clinical outcomes between male and female surgeons is unlikely to prove worthwhile," he added.
Alderson said that he was convinced that the gender of the surgeon would not emerge as "an important determinant of a good outcome for patients having surgery."