Breast cancer patients’ modesty could force male surgeons out of business

Study shows a third of women prefer a female doctor when it comes to examination, but most are okay with either for surgery.

December 2, 2016 00:31
2 minute read.
STUDIES SHOW that women tend to prefer female physicians, especially obstetricians and gynecologists

STUDIES SHOW that women tend to prefer female physicians, especially obstetricians and gynecologists. (photo credit: REUTERS)

If the current trend of increasing modesty continues, it will become more difficult for male breast surgeons to find patients. A study published this week in the Israel Journal for Public Health Research shows that a third of women prefer a female breast surgeon to examine them than a man.

Asnat Groutz, Hadar Amir, Revital Caspi, Eran Sharon, Yifat Amir Levy and Mordechai Shimonov interviewed 515 women who attended breast clinics in two university-affiliated tertiary hospitals who answered a 25-item anonymous questionnaire.

“Patient preferences regarding the gender of their physicians is a highly sensitive issue, which can be particularly salient in intimate medical situations,” they wrote. Previously published studies found that women tend to prefer female physicians, especially in the case of obstetricians and gynecologists.

Data regarding other intimate specialties, such as breast surgery, are scarce. The present study was undertaken to assess gender preferences of women regarding their choice of a breast surgeon.

A total of 160 (32%) women preferred to undergo breast examination by a female breast surgeon, 296 (59%) had no preference, and only 44 (9%) preferred a male surgeon.

The younger the patient, the more likely she would prefer a female surgeon.

The growing number of Orthodox Jewish and observant Muslim young women raises the demand for protecting their modesty.

However, there is still hope for male surgeons, as an equal number of patients preferred a woman to actually perform breast surgery (14 %) or a male (13 %), while most patients (73 %) had no gender preferences.

Furthermore, the three most important factors in selecting a surgeon were surgical ability (93%), experience (91.2%) and knowledge (78.6 %), rather than physician gender per se. However, in this country, surgeons are the ones who provide breast health services, both preventive and therapeutic.

Embarrassment during the examination was the major reason for same-gender preference. They found that almost a third of the potential patients prefer female surgeons for their breast examinations, emphasizing the need to increase the number of female surgeons. “Such an increase can be achieved through academic and economic changes that will enable more women to specialize in general surgery,” they concluded.

Currently, women constitute half of the medical students in Israel, similar to the rate in the US. However, unlike the significant increase in the number of women entering general surgery in the US, female surgeons in Israel are still a distinct minority and represent only a fifth of the residents in general surgery programs.

The first part of the questionnaire included basic socio-demographic information, gender of the patients’ regular surgeon, gynecologist and family physician, and previous examination by a male or female breast surgeon. The second part of the questionnaire included questions regarding gender preferences in different medical situations, such as breast examination, or breast surgery.

Patients were also asked to identify how specific characteristics of breast surgeons tend to be related to their gender; these included being gentle, sympathetic, tolerant and their medical knowledge and surgical skills.

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