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Gender differences in the acquisition of surgical skills: a systematic review

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Females are less attracted than males to surgical specialties, which may be due to differences in the acquisition of skills. The aim of this study was to systematically review studies that investigate gender differences in the acquisition of surgical skills.


We performed a comprehensive database search using relevant search phrases and MeSH terms. We included studies that investigated the role of gender in the acquisition of surgical skills.


Our search yielded 247 studies, 18 of which were found to be eligible and were therefore included. These studies included a total of 2,106 study participants. The studies were qualitatively synthesized in five categories (studies on medical students, studies on both medical students and residents, studies on residents, studies on gender differences in needed physical strength, and studies on other gender-related training conditions). Male medical students tended to outperform females, while no gender differences were found among residents. Gaming experience and interest in surgery correlated with better acquisition of surgical skills, regardless of gender. Although initial levels of surgical abilities seemed lower among females, one-on-one training and instructor feedback worked better on females and were able to help the acquisition of surgical skills at a level that negated measurable gender differences. Female physicians possess the required physical strength for surgical procedures, but may face gender-related challenges in daily clinical practice.


Medical students are a heterogeneous group with a range of interests and experiences, while surgical residents are more homogeneous perhaps due to selection bias. Gender-related differences are more pronounced among medical students. Future surgical curricula should consider tailoring personalized programs that accommodate more mentoring and one-on-one training for female physicians while giving male physicians more practice opportunities in order to increase the output of surgical training and acquisition of surgical skills.

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The authors wish to thank Josie Hamper for linguistic assistance.


Authors Amir Ali, Yousif Subhi, Charlotte Ringsted, and Lars Konge have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.

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Correspondence to Amir Ali.

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Ali, A., Subhi, Y., Ringsted, C. et al. Gender differences in the acquisition of surgical skills: a systematic review. Surg Endosc 29, 3065–3073 (2015).

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