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Medical Students’ Perceptions of Surgeons: Implications for Teaching and Recruitment

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The purpose of this study was to assess first-year medical students' implicit perceptions of surgeons, focusing on the roles of gender and demeanor (communal = supportive, associated with women; agentic = assertive, associated with men).


Survey study. Each survey had 1 of 8 possible scenarios; all began with a short description of a surgeon who was described as accomplished and well trained, then varied by surgeon gender (male/female), surgeon demeanor (agentic/communal), and type of surgery (breast cancer/lung cancer). Using a 0 to 5 scale, respondents rated their perception of the surgeon through 5 questions. These 5 items were averaged to create a composite perception score scaled from 0 to 5.


Surveys were administered at the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of California, Los Angeles.


We administered surveys to 333 first-year medical students who could read English and voluntarily agreed to participate.


A total of 238 students responded (71.5%). They preferred the communal vs agentic surgeon (4.2 ± 0.7 vs 3.9 ± 0.7, p = 0.002) and male medical students perceived surgeons more favorably than female medical students did (4.2 ± 0.6 vs 4.0 ± 0.8, p = 0.036). The preference score did not differ according to surgeon gender (female 4.12 vs male 3.98, p = 0.087). There were no significant interactions between the factors of student gender, surgeon gender, or demeanor. Students who reported an interest in surgery as a career did not perceive surgeons more favorably than the students interested in other fields (4.3 ± 0.7 vs 4.0 ± 0.7 respectively, p = 0.066).


Based on our findings, surgeon educators would likely find success in teaching and recruiting medical students by employing a communal demeanor in their interactions with all students, regardless of the students' gender or stated interest in surgery.

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