Orthopaedic surgery training programs have lagged behind other surgical specialties in increasing their representation of women and people from under-represented minority (URM) groups. Comparative data between orthopaedic surgery and other specialties are needed to help identify solutions to closing the diversity gap.
(1) Which surgical specialties have the greatest representation of women residents and residents from URM groups? (2) How have the proportions of women residents and residents from URM groups changed across the surgical specialties during the past decade?
This was a retrospective evaluation of a large, longitudinally maintained survey database. Resident data by gender and ethnicity were retrieved from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Data Resource Books for the 2011 to 2012 through 2019 to 2020 academic years. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education database is updated annually; thus, it is the most up-to-date and complete database available for gender and ethnicity data for all surgical residents. Data were obtained and analyzed for seven different surgical specialties: orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, general surgery, and urology. No sampling was necessary, and thus descriptive statistics of the data were completed. Because the entire population of residents was included for the period of time in question, no statistical comparisons were made, and the reported differences represent absolute differences between the groups for these periods. Linear regression analyses were performed to estimate the annual growth rates of women residents and residents from URM groups in each specialty.
Among the seven surgical specialties, representation of women residents increased from 28% (4640 of 16,854) of residents in 2012 to 33% (6879 of 20,788) in 2020. Orthopaedic surgery had the lowest representation of women residents every year, with women residents comprising 16% of residents (700 of 4342) in 2020. Among the seven surgical specialties, representation of residents from URM groups increased from 8.1% (1362 of 16,854) in 2012 to 9.7% (2013 of 20,788) in 2020. In 2020, the representation of residents from URM groups in orthopaedic surgery was 7.7% (333 of 4342). In 2020, general surgery had the highest representation of women residents (42%; 3696 of 8809) as well as residents from URM groups (12%; 1065 of 8809). Plastic surgery (1.46% per year) and general surgery (0.95% per year) had larger annual growth rates of women residents than the other specialties did. In each surgical specialty, the annual growth rate of residents from URM groups was insignificant.
During the past decade, there was only a small increase in the representation of women in orthopaedic surgery, while the representation of people from URM groups did not change. In contrast, by 2020, general surgery had become the most diverse among the seven surgical specialties. To increase diversity in our field, we need to evaluate and implement some of the effective interventions that have helped general surgery become the diverse surgical specialty that it is today.
General surgery has substantially reduced gender and ethnic disparities that existed in the past, while those in orthopaedic surgery still persist. General surgery residencies have implemented a holistic review of resident applications and longitudinal mentoring programs to successfully address these disparities. Orthopaedic surgery programs should consider placing less emphasis on United States Medical Licensing Examination score thresholds and more weight on applicants’ non-academic attributes, and put more efforts into targeted longitudinal mentorship programs, some of which should be led by non-minority faculty.