Are Women Better Doctors Than Men?

A recent study shows that female physicians may achieve better patient outcomes than male physicians.

Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #230

First of all, the study was done in the inpatient setting, not in outpatient clinics. The researchers studied approximately 1.5 million hospitalized Medicare patients from 2011 to 2014 who were taken care of by general internal medicine physicians, both male and female doctors.

They then measured two outcomes that the authors of the study regarded as reflections of success :

1.  30 day mortality: They looked at how many of these hospitalized patients died within 30 days.

2.  30 day readmission: They looked at how many of the patients had to be readmitted after being released from the hospital, suggesting that they may have been discharged too soon or perhaps without proper follow up instructions or care.

Patients cared for by female hospitalists had a small but still statistically significantly lower rate of both measures when compared to male physicians. In fact, according to the study, 32,000 more lives a year could be saved if you were taken care of by female physicians in this same way.

Surely, the “power” of the study, a term that reflects the number of subjects, in this case 1.5 million hospital visits, makes this study a very interesting one. Compare this to case studies that include only a handful (or less) of enrolled patients, and those types of studies have what we call a “low power,” and are deemed to be weaker evidence.

But like all studies, there are also a few drawbacks to note when interpreting the results when it comes to your personal medical care:

1.    The study reflects the inpatient setting only, not outpatient clinics. Therefore, it’s not easy to extrapolate information like this one to your primary care physician.

2.    It excludes specialist care. It examined general internist performance only.

3.    It excludes patients less than age 65.

4.    In medicine data needs to be corroborated and repeated multiple times before well-acceptance.

But here is what it does suggest: women are certainly not any less competent than men, in case you had any doubts.

Unfortunately, however, women physicians are paid on average of 20K less than their male counterparts, and are less likely to receive promotions within the medical field. According to the authors of this study, "Throw in our study about better outcomes, and those differences in salary and promotion become particularly unconscionable." With the rising cost of healthcare, the cost of saving 32,000 more lives per year cannot even compare to closing the salary gap between male and female physicians. Hence, hiring more women physicians is well worth the cost-savings.

In my own practice, as a female physician, do I practice medicine close to physician guidelines? Do I practice preventative medicine? And do I believe in the importance of the psychosocial aspects of medicine? If you follow my articles or podcasts, and/or if you allow the opportunity to get to know me as a physician, then you know the answers to these questions. I have to admit that so does my husband. Am I a better doctor than my husband? No way—we both have our strengths and weaknesses as physicians … and humans, for that matter.  However, I am definitley as competent and experienced and should really be as equally trusted and respected. My own patients that get to know me do also know this about me.

In conclusion, it’s about time that we not only close the gender pay gap in this country (across all career fields), but to also finally break away from the gender stereotypes, even in medicine. Your doctor may not fit the typical male, caucasion, older, eyeglass-wearing profile of the generations passed.

And if you judge a book by its cover, unfortunately you may miss out on a great opportunity to receive perhaps some of the greatest medical care.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

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