Orthopaedic surgery has the lowest proportion of women surgeons in practice of any specialty in the United States. Preliminary studies suggest that patients who are treated by physicians of the same race, ethnicity, cultural background, or gender feel more comfortable with their care and may have better outcomes. Therefore, understanding the discrepancies in the diversity of the orthopaedic surgeon workforce is crucial to addressing system-wide healthcare inequities.
(1) Does a difference exist in gender representation among practicing orthopaedic surgeons across geographic distributions and years in practice? (2) Does a difference exist in gender representation among practicing orthopaedic surgeons with regard to rural-urban setting, group practice size, and years in practice?
Orthopaedic surgeons serving Medicare patients in 2017 were identified in the Medicare Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File and Physician Compare national databases. This dataset encompasses more than 64% of practicing orthopaedic surgeons, providing a low proportion of missing data compared with other survey techniques. Group practice size, location, and Rural-urban Commuting Area scores were compared across physician gender and years in practice. Linear and logistic regressions modeled gender and outcomes relationships adjusted by years in practice. Least-square means estimates for outcomes were calculated by gender at the median years in practice (19 years) via regression models.
According to the combined Medicare databases used, 5% (1019 of 19,221) of orthopaedic surgeons serving Medicare patients were women; this proportion increased with decreasing years in practice (R2 0.97; p < 0.001). Compared by region, the West region demonstrated the highest proportion of women orthopaedic surgeons overall (7% [259 of 3811]). The Midwest and South regions were below the national mean for proportions of women orthopaedic surgeons, both overall (5% [305 of 6666] and 5% [209 of 4146], respectively) and in the first 5 years of practice (9% [54 of 574] and 9% [74 of 817], respectively). Women worked in larger group practices than men (median [interquartile range] 118 physicians [20 to 636] versus median 56 [12 to 338]; p < 0.001, respectively). Both genders were more likely to practice in an urban setting, and when controlling for years in practice, there was no difference between men and women orthopaedic surgeons practicing in rural or urban settings (respectively, R2 = 0.0004 and 0.07; p = 0.89 and 0.09).
Among orthopaedic surgeons, there is only one woman for every 20 men caring for Medicare patients in the United States. Although gender representation is increasing longitudinally for women, it trails behind other surgical subspecialties substantially. Longitudinal mentoring programs, among other evidenced initiatives, should focus on the more pronounced underrepresentation identified in Midwestern/Southern regions and smaller group practices. Gender-based equity, inclusion, and diversity efforts should focus on recruitment strategies, and further research is needed to study how inclusion and diversity efforts among orthopaedic surgeons improves patient-centered care.
Level of Evidence
Level III, therapeutic study.