Communication

Fourth Edition of ‘The Evidence’: Do Women Make Better Doctors? 

May 30, 2024 717

This month’s issue of The Evidence newsletter debates the significance of reports showing that female doctors have better patient outcomes – including lower mortality rates in surgery – than their male counterparts. 

Data shows patients in US hospitals are less likely to die when treated by female doctors. When Rob Shmerling, a former rheumatologist and Harvard Health Publishing senior editor, encountered a report pointing to this, his initial response was that “the researchers must have missed something.” 

After carefully reading through the research, however, he concluded that “it’s hard to come up with an alternative explanation.” 

Since Shmerling’s comments, which were published in 2017, evidence attesting to the efficacy of female doctors has continued to accumulate. In this month’s issue of The Evidence, journalist Josephine Lethbridge examines these reports to ask: Why should we care about this information? And how can this research make healthcare more equitable? 

It is important to note that these reports primarily focus on patient outcome data; they do not help us to understand why female doctors perform better than their male counterparts.  

Among researchers, however, there is a consensus. Female health practitioners are not chromosomally superior to their male colleagues. Instead, behaviors driven by sociological conditioning lead to differences in practice between male and female doctors. Differences in practice, in turn, lead to different patient outcomes. 

Lethbridge argues that pitting women against men to determine who makes for ‘better’ surgeons oversimplifies the debate. Instead, she frames such research as an opportunity for healthcare professionals to modify patient healthcare.  

Lethbridge explores the broader structural inequalities that have contributed towards such healthcare discrepancies to consider solutions that will enable fairer, more inclusive, and more effective healthcare systems for all.  

Read this month’s full newsletter. An archive of previous issues can be accessed through Social Science Space

Sage – the parent of Social Science Space – sponsors The Evidence, a bold new feminist newsletter that covers everything you need to know about the latest social and behavioral science research into gender inequality. The newsletter makes research accessible and understandable, empowering readers to respond to today’s crises by making changes in their communities, their workplaces, or in the laws of their country. 

Joe Sweeney is a corporate communications at Sage. Prior to working for Sage he earned a master’s degree in English literature, with a focus on photography, architecture, and fiction writing from 1900—present.

View all posts by Joe Sweeney

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