Study Asks, “Where are the Women in Orthopaedics?”

Although women account for approximately half of medical students in the United States, they represent only 13 percent of orthopaedic surgery residents and 4 percent of AAOS members. According to survey results to be presented Friday, the few women who are practicing orthopaedic surgery today became interested in the field due to factors such as the professional satisfaction and intellectual stimulation it offers, despite the lack of female role models and their limited exposure to orthopaedics prior to residency.

The authors contend that programs designed to improve mentorship and increase early exposure to orthopaedics play an important role in attracting the best and brightest of both sexes to orthopaedic surgery.

Study methods
The objective of this study was to understand why female orthopaedic surgeons chose the specialty, what perceptions they think might deter other women from pursuing this field, and the roles early exposure to orthopaedics and mentorship might play in this choice.

A 21-question survey was emailed to all members of the Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society (n = 556). Questions were formulated to determine demographics, practice patterns, and lifestyle choices of female orthopaedic surgeons. Specific questions evaluated the respondents’ selection of orthopaedics and their opinions of why more women do not choose this field.

Responses were received from 232 members (41.7 percent).

The following were the most common reasons proposed for why women might not choose orthopaedics:

  • perceived inability to have a good work/life balance
  • perception that too much physical strength is required
  • lack of strong mentorship in medical school or earlier

The most common specialties among respondents were hand (24 percent), general orthopaedics (20 percent), pediatric orthopaedics (19 percent), and sports medicine (15 percent). A majority of respondents reported practicing in an academic (42 percent) or hospital employed (21 percent) setting. Seventy-five percent of respondents considered themselves to be in a committed relationship, and 52 percent have children.

“Our key findings suggest that lack of exposure to musculoskeletal medicine, lack of mentorship, and lack of female role models may play a prominent role in the paucity of women entering orthopaedics,” said Julie E. Adams, MD, one of the study’s authors.

“In addition,” she asserted, “stereotypes—such as the perception that ‘too much strength” is required—or perceptions regarding poor work-life balance may deter women from pursuing orthopaedic surgery. Future work is needed to understand and improve the pipeline of qualified medical students who enter the field of orthopaedic surgery. Promoting mentorship and female role models in orthopaedics will ensure the future of orthopaedic surgery and that we will continue to attract the best and brightest of both sexes to enter our field.”      

Dr. Adams’ coauthors of Paper 862, “Where are the Women in Orthopaedic Surgery? Examining Reasons for the Persistent Gender Gap” are Rachel S. Rohde, MD; and Jennifer M. Wolf, MD.

Details of the authors’ disclosures as submitted to the Orthopaedic Disclosure Program can be found in the Final Program; the most current disclosure information may be accessed electronically at