The Effect of Gender on Resident Autonomy in the Operating room

Shari L. Meyerson, Joel M. Sternbach, Joseph B. Zwischenberger, Edward M. Bender

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

153 Scopus citations


Objective Discrimination against women training in medicine and surgery has been subjectively described for decades. This study objectively documents gender differences in the degree of autonomy given to thoracic surgery trainees in the operating room. Design Thoracic surgery residents and faculty underwent frame of reference training on the use of the 4-point Zwisch scale to measure operative autonomy. Residents and faculty then submitted evaluations of their perception of autonomy granted for individual operations as well as operative difficulty on a real-time basis using the “Zwisch Me!!” mobile application. Differences in autonomy given to male and female residents were elucidated using chi-square analysis and ordered logistic regression. Setting Seven academic medical centers with thoracic surgery training programs. Participants Volunteer thoracic surgery residents in both integrated and traditional training pathways and their affiliated cardiothoracic faculty. Results Residents (n = 33, female 18%) submitted a total of 596 evaluations to faculty (n = 48, female 12%). Faculty gave less autonomy to female residents with only 56 of 184 evaluations (30.3%) showing meaningful autonomy (passive help or supervision only) compared to 107 of 292 evaluations (36.7%) at those levels for male residents (p = 0.02). Resident perceptions of autonomy showed even more pronounced differences with female residents receiving only 38 of 197 evaluations (19.3%) with meaningful autonomy compared to 133 of 399 evaluations (33.3%) for male residents (p < 0.001). Potential influencing factors explored included attending gender and specialty, case type and difficulty, and resident level of training. In multivariate analysis, only case difficultly, resident gender, and level of training were significantly related to autonomy granted to residents. Conclusions Evaluations of operative autonomy reveal a significant bias against female residents. Faculty education is needed to encourage allowing female residents more operative autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e111-e118
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Association of Program Directors in Surgery


  • autonomy
  • bias
  • gender disparity
  • surgical education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Education


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