Though overt sexism is decreasing, women now experience subtle, often unconscious, gender bias as microaggressions. The authors sought to explore the prevalence and impact of the sexist microaggressions female surgeons experience, using a sequential exploratory mixed methods approach (January 2018–April 2018), to identify opportunities for education and prevention. First, all resident, fellow, and attending female surgeons at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNM HSC) were invited to participate in focus groups conducted by experienced moderators using a semistructured interview guide based on the 7 Sexist Microaggressions Experiences and Stress Scale (Sexist MESS) domains. Qualitative analysis was performed using line-by-line manual coding to identify themes aligned with the Sexist MESS domains as well as other gender bias experiences of female surgeons. Next, a survey was sent to all resident, fellow, and attending female surgeons at the UNM HSC, which included the Sexist MESS questionnaire and questions related to surgeon-specific experiences of gender bias that the authors developed based on major thematic categories from the focus groups.
Four focus groups of 23 female surgeons were conducted, revealing 4 themes: exclusion, increased effort, adaptation, and resilience to workplace slights. The survey response rate was 64% (65/101 surgeons). Across Sexist MESS domains, the frequency and severity of microaggressions was higher for trainees than attendings. The variables of non-White race/ethnicity, having children under 18, and fellowship training generally did not demonstrate statistical significance. This exploratory study adds to the growing body of evidence that gender bias in surgery continues and frequently manifests as microaggressions. Trainees reported the highest rates and severity of microaggressions and bias experiences. Further research should investigate how to address microaggressions, the experiences of male surgeons, the perspectives of medical students and groups who were reported as often perpetuating gender bias, and the efficacy of possible interventions.