Derm Appeal Blog

Women’s History Month: The Underrepresentation of Women in Cosmetic Surgery

Although women comprise the majority of cosmetic surgery patients, there remains a stunning lack of gender diversity in the field with over 80% of practicing surgeons being male. In honor of Women’s History Month, LiVDerm is addressing the underrepresentation of women in the plastic surgery profession, the reasons behind it, and the initiatives necessary to close the prominent gender gap.

Lack of Women in Cosmetic Surgery 

There is a profound lack of female plastic surgeons across the globe. Per data from a 2017 study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Global Open, the female-to-male ratio of surgeons practicing plastic surgery is estimated at one to five. At the same time, women comprise the majority of surgical patients; in 2018, women received as much as 92% of total cosmetic procedures performed that year.

According to the 2017 study, the proportion of female surgeons among all female physicians remained unchanged at 12-13% from 2000 to 2013. Plastic surgery societies and organizations have estimated that the overall percentage of board certified plastic surgeons that are women is below 25%  in the United States and approximately 10% across the globe.

The disproportionate amount of men in plastic surgery becomes prominent during residency programs. In an interview with online aesthetic resource Aedit, New York City-based board certified plastic surgeon Nina Naidu, MD reveals that she was the only woman in her plastic surgery program residency despite graduating from a class comprised of 50% women. Other female plastic surgeons reported similar experiences of an overwhelmingly male cohort during their surgical residency programs with significantly more even gender ratios in medical school classes.

Motherhood, Mentorship, and Role Models

Although the reasons underlying each female medical student’s decision to not pursue plastic surgery as a profession vary, several potential explanations have been offered including the perception of surgical culture and its impact on lifestyle. Namely, the perceived commitment and lack of flexibility which is not compatible with women facing the disproportionate burden of caregiving. Additionally, the lack of female surgeon role models and representation in the field make it difficult for women to envision themselves in these positions worsened by limited mentorship and support opportunities.

The number of years plastic surgery training requires may deter some female medical students; not only does surgical residency last until residents are 32 or 33, but there is also no adequate maternal leave involved forcing women to choose between motherhood and careers in the field. In addition, the grueling work hours, minimal time off, and lack of support services available to plastic surgeons who are also caregivers make a work-life balance difficult to achieve.

Furthermore, a lack of mentorship may also play a critical part in furthering female underrepresentation, double board certified facial plastic surgeon Dara Liotta, MD outlined in her interview with Aedit.

“Perhaps this made it difficult for young women going through training to see a place for themselves in the field without obvious female mentors who had ‘been there and done that’ successfully in terms of navigating the predominantly male surgical culture and managing to balance work with family and outside life,” Dr. Liotta explains highlighting the pattern of historical underrepresentation in the field. “Surgical residency and fellowship is very taxing, both emotionally and physically. For anyone — male, female, ethnic minority, ethnic majority — it is difficult to endure without seeing yourself in your mentors and having like-peers to confide and commiserate with.”

Today, the field of cosmetic surgery remains largely dominated by men, however, the perception of plastic surgery as a “boys club” is slowly changing as gender equality becomes more prominent across the globe. Female plastic surgeons note the shift is evidenced by an increase of women in the room and strategic efforts aimed at not only furthering gender diversity but ethnic diversity as well.

As such, there is an explicit need for wide-scale initiatives targeting female recruitment and participation in plastic surgery residency programs as well as a commitment to the development of policies and protocols that help bridge current gender gaps. Providing networking, mentoring, and support opportunities is critical to attracting more women to the specialty while offering them the tools and resources they need to succeed.

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