Do Women Make Better Doctors Than Men?

As an aspiring physician, I found myself intrigued at a Harvard study that compared patient outcomes based on if they received care from male or female physicians. This study found that elderly Medicare patients treated by female physicians had lower mortality and readmission rates compared with those who were treated by male physicians. Even though the difference in mortality rate was only around .43% in this study, when considering the size of the Medicare population in America, this translates to 32,000 fewer deaths with a female physician, which means that if male physicians had the same patient outcomes as their female counterparts, there would have been 32,000 fewer deaths in the Medicare population. After reading the study in its entirety, I was left both baffled and curiousdo women really make better doctors than men?

Don’t get me wrong, I was more than thrilled to learn this, but reading the study made me feel skeptical since only 36% of practicing physicians (MD and DO) are female. I was left wondering many things. If patients of female physicians tend to fare better, then why do so few female physicians exist? What can other physicians learn from these female physicians who have better patient outcomes? And most importantly, how could these findings inform the future patient care? 

Upon further research, I learned that researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that female physicians spent more time talking with their patients compared to their male colleagues, meaning that female doctors are more emotionally involved and “patient-centered.” However, this study mentions that this comes at a cost because female physicians who were spending more time with patients also had more scheduling delays with consults, which put them behind their male colleagues by the end of the workday. However, it cannot be ignored that female physicians seem to be, on average, better at communicating with patients. Patient satisfaction and outcomes are heavily based on the quality of interaction with healthcare professionals, which is why effective communication is so crucial in healthcare.

man holding stethoscope

A Canadian study determined that there is a lower chance of patient mortality (over a thirty day period) in those who were treated by female surgeons rather than male surgeons. The fact that patient outcomes may depend on the surgeon may not be surprising, since stronger patient-physician relationships are correlated with better patient outcomes. However, it may be unfair to solely attribute patient outcomes to gender. There are definitely male physicians who make it a point to connect with patients, but based on these studies I’m finding, it is slightly more common to see this level of interaction and patient connection from female physicians.

Much like in other careers, women who choose to pursue a career in surgery experience barriers to their success. But something to consider is that since women need to overcome these barriers to be given the same opportunities as men in their field, this might have set a higher standard for women to become surgeons, thereby creating more skilled and hardworking female surgeons. This could very well be a potential explanation as to why there is even a slightly better patient outcome for female surgeons rather than their male colleagues. 

I would like to emphasize that in my writing this article, I am in no way trying to assert some kind of female superiority or dominance. Moreover, I believe that people should feel comfortable with their healthcare providers in order to see better results. As a pre-medical student, I feel that it is extremely important to understand what it means to be a physician before I can actually begin medical school. When I found such a shocking study by Harvard, I felt it would be interesting to further research.

At the end of the day, if a particular gender makes you feel comfortable, then you should trust that feeling when making important decisions such as choosing a healthcare provider. For instance, some women feel more comfortable with a female gynecologist, in which case they should look for a female physician. This is important because patients who trust their physicians are more likely to follow treatment protocols, follow-up, and share their concerns. All in all, my biggest takeaway from all this is that at the end of the day, you should try to find a healthcare provider who is approachable and listens to your concerns.