Why Aren't There More Women Plastic Surgeons?

Danielle Jackson
Plastic surgeons operating patient for breast implant. Team of doctors are in scrubs at operating room. They are at hospital.
Plastic surgeons operating patient for breast implant. Team of doctors are in scrubs at operating room. They are at hospital.

Have you ever noticed that some of the most prominent figures in plastic surgery are men, even when the majority of patients are women? There's been a surge in demand for plastic surgery in the last month, and though studies are showing that Americans' overall attitudes toward going under the knife are changing, one thing that remains the same - and has for nearly two decades - is the lack of women performing some of today's most popular procedures.

Per a report from the the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, women made up 92 percent of all plastic surgery patients in 2018, yet in another study published by the American Medical Association and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the proportion of female plastic surgeons remained at a steady 12-13 percent from 2000 to 2013.

According to Dr. Tanya Judge of Judge MD Plastic Surgery Clinic in San Francisco, the lack of gender diversity in plastic surgery has a lot to do with the field generally being a "boys club" that's difficult to break into. "Breaking down barriers in a boys club has always been difficult no matter what industry you're in," she told POPSUGAR. "The field is highly specialized and incredibly competitive, and men in general have been given access more freely. The environment has not been easy."

Trying to find your way in a competitive industry like plastic surgery makes burnout and exhaustion inevitable, not just because of the amount of education and training it requires, but also because the women who do try and break into the field feel like they have to work twice as hard to get even a fraction of the recognition as men.

"Women feel as though they have to overperform to be considered equal."

"There are two paths to plastic surgery: either you find a six-year plastic surgery program directly out of medical school or you take the long route, which I did, that includes five years of general surgery followed by three years of plastic surgery," Judge said. "A number of people become exhausted from general surgery [because] it's challenging, it's stratified, and there are many sexist men in the field. Women feel as though they have to overperform to be considered equal."

This also creates a "chicken-or-egg" dilemma: the lack of woman plastic surgeons makes it difficult for aspiring female surgeons to find female mentors, which can often be discouraging.

"Because of the lack of women, it's almost impossible to find a female mentor," Judge said. "So trying to find a male mentor as a trainee is really hard. I had wonderful attendings who believed in me, but as a woman, you really feel the need to have to prove yourself to get to where you want to be."

Similarly, and beyond the difficulty of finding female mentorship behind the scenes, this also makes it harder for women to find a female doctor to perform a procedure, which might be a preference for more personal or intimate surgeries like breast augmentation or vaginal reconstruction. "The most common complaint I get from patients who've seen male surgeons before me is that, in the consultation, the patient has said, 'I want a B cup,' and the [male] surgeon has said, 'No, you want a D cup, you have to go to a D!'"

This is not to say men can't be highly skilled, sensitive, and thoughtful plastic surgeons. They can (and there are many, in fact, that are more than capable at performing these types of procedures). But until the gender disparity in this prestigious field is addressed, women will continue to feel an inequality - and that's something worth talking about.

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