Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

Why do surgeons call themselves Mr?

Ever wondered why your surgeon calls himself Mr? Because he is likely to be a bloke!

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According to the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, females make up

  • 24% of surgical trainees, and only
  • 7% of fellows (qualified surgeons).

    I am not going to be simplistic and say that this is evidence of discrimination, or an “Old Boy’s” network. In fact, female junior doctors I deal with simply aren’t interested in surgery. This decision is sometimes based on pretty bogus logic. I mean, if lifestyle was such an issue, then there would not be so many females doing Obstetrics. However, my experience of the College is that they are often unprepared for requests for flexible training, including deferment or part time study. Seeing as females are so underrepresented, they probably haven’t with many of this type of request before. So in that sense, reluctance to deal with the difficulties of training are well-grounded.

    Surely there is an image problem. If more than 90% of the surgeons trainees learn from are male, then it can be hard to find positive role models. And patients only get to see men in that role, which perpetuates the masculine image of surgeons.

    But does it matter? Do people care about the sex of their surgeon? Are there any patients out there that would prefer to see a male, or a female surgeon, and why?

    Image source

    7 responses to “Why do surgeons call themselves Mr?”

    1. bongi says:

      in the circles i move in surgeons do not call themselves mister. in fact it would be seen as a bit of an insult. it is based on the mister title being british.

    2. dragonfly says:

      Isn’t it based on the fact that surgeons used to be barbers?
      I don’t care about the sex of my doctor, but did really appreciate having a female general surgeon mentor me in my first surgery placement. She was such a fantastic teacher (as were the male gen surg consultants actually) that most of us came out of it wanting to be general surgeons. (Like how many in my class also want to do emergency – good experience in medical school is somewhat related to career interests).

    3. Cris says:

      I wasn’t expecting that the title would create so much interest – I suppose it is my cultural bias. Surgeons used to be called Mr, as they were not trained by physicians (DR), but rather were a trade of their own. It is an English historical thing.

      I was posting mainly because I was astounded by the male/female balance when I got the numbers recently.

    4. Aviva says:

      FWIW, when I get a choice, I always prefer female doctors and surgeons. I know it’s a stereotype, but I think female docs and surgeons communicate better and have better bedside manners.

      I had a horror story of an orthopedic surgeon who would barely stay in the examining room to answer questions. Every time I paused to take a breath, he’d dash out the door. I’d then have to wait for a nurse to wrangle him back into the exam room to finish answering my questions. Horrible people skills … and he was just as bad post-surgery when my pain was out of control so badly I was admitted to the hospital and was sobbing when he visited my room. Instead of addressing my pain, he showed my then boyfriend, now husband, photos of the tear in my labrum that he didn’t know was there before cutting into me. He was just awful (but VERY excited about the tear in my labrum :), and I decided then and there that I’d pass on top surgeons for a competent one with a good bedside manner any day.

      Just my 2 cents. And I love your rant about people boring you with their medical conditions in social settings. I hope I never do that! 🙂

    5. dragonfly says:

      The image problem is quite right. And the more than female doctors/medical students avoid male dominated fields because of that, the more the myth is perpetuated…In your experience have many female surgical trainees swapped into something else? If so, what? (Anaesthetics is one I have heard of people moving into).

    6. Cris says:

      @Aviva: I think there is a real problem when good surgeons can’t converse well. You get the choice of having someone who is technically brilliant, or someone who can talk to you.

      @dragonfly: The only trainees that have swapped over were into gynae and radiology. I am pretty sure those who swapped were only using surgery as a backup, anyway.

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