Female Doctors Are Better at Saving Lives Than Male Doctors

Kim Briggs and Elliot Reid on Scrubs sarah chalke elizabeth banks
Dr. Kim Briggs and Dr. Elliot Reid on 'Scrubs' | NBC
Dr. Kim Briggs and Dr. Elliot Reid on 'Scrubs' | NBC

Medicine is a field still dominated by men (like most other fields out there), but today brings news of another reason it shouldn’t be: Women doctors might be more effective at saving lives than their male counterparts.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, analyzed Medicare data for 1.5 million hospital visits of elderly patients. Researchers concluded that if male doctors treated their patients with the same efficacy, they'd save an additional 32,000 people a year... which is a whole lot of people! The mortality rate difference between being treated by a woman versus being treated by a man, 30 days after hospitalization, was a little less than half a percentage point -- seemingly small, but more than enough to warrant attention, the doctors argue.

"If we had a treatment that lowered mortality by 0.4 percentage points or half a percentage point, that is a treatment we would use widely," Harvard's Dr. Ashish Jha, who led the study, told the Washington Post. "We would think of that as a clinically important treatment we want to use for our patients."

Ruling out several different causes for the discrepancy, the study authors pointed to practice patterns that broke down along gendered lines. Previous studies have shown that female doctors tend to be better at counseling their patients on preventive care, following clinical guidelines, and communicating effectively.

While it's important to point out that the study has limitations -- it's impossible to control for all variables in real-world scenarios -- it nonetheless states: "Assuming that the association between sex and mortality is causal, we estimate that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year."

These findings come out in a time where women doctors still earn $20,000 less than male doctors and male medical school graduates still outpace the women. The good news is that while the number of women in medical professions is rising, their representation in medical school faculty still has lots of catching up to do.

The Washington Post quotes Judith Hall, a psychologist at Northeastern University who's studied gendered attitudes toward doctors for decades. "It takes a huge study like this to convince anybody, because it's a very highly charged topic," Judith Hall said. "Women are the newcomers to this field."

... which isn't strictly true. Women have been in medicine since before Agnodice pioneered gynecology, to the days of Elizabeth Blackwell and Rebecca Lee Crumpler, across a Wikipedia page of accomplishments, and all the way up to this study. No one should still have to "convince anybody" that women can be effective doctors.

Women have proven that for eons. Time to pay up.

H/T: Washington Post

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Eric Vilas-Boas is a writer and editor at Thrillist.