Gender Equity in Humanitarian Surgical Outreach: A Decade of Volunteer Surgeons

Vennila Padmanaban, Ashley Tran, Peter F. Johnston, Amy Gore, Kathleen S. Beebe, Anastasia Kunac, Ziad C. Sifri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Workforce trends in surgery demonstrate persistent gender inequity. Humanitarian surgical outreach opportunities exist for surgeons; however, it is unclear as to whether gender disparities exist in this arena. This pilot study examines gender equity among volunteer surgeons using a decade of compiled data from a surgical nongovernmental organization (NGO) that hosts multinational surgical outreach. We aim to evaluate gender proportions among surgical volunteers, compare the gender profiles of NGO surgeons with local and nationwide cohorts, and examine the productive output of surgical volunteers by gender. Materials and methods: A retrospective review was conducted of the records of the International Surgical Health Initiative, an NGO that hosts short-term surgical missions, to generate a demographic roster of volunteers between 2009 and 2018. Comparisons were made of gender profiles within volunteer cohorts against local institutional data and nationwide surgical workforce data. Productivity outputs of surgical volunteers were compared. Chi-square tests and Wilcoxon two-sample statistical t-tests were used. Results: A total of 23 short-term surgical trips were inclusive of 227 volunteers, and 61% (139) were female. Physicians were less likely to be female than other volunteers. In addition, nonsurgical volunteers were more likely to be female compared with surgical volunteers (67% versus 44%, P < 0.01). No gender differences were observed by average number of trips or propensity for repeat trips among surgical volunteers. No differences were found in proportions of female surgical attendings and residents in the NGO cohort compared with the local and national cohorts. Conclusions: Females contribute substantially to surgical outreach, representing more than half the volunteers in this organization. Gender profiles of female surgeons in this NGO are in parity with those of surgical attendings and residents in the national census. Male and female volunteer surgeons are equally productive. There is an equitable gender representation among volunteer surgeons in this NGO. Further studies of other surgical organizations participating in surgical outreach are required toward a more complete understanding of female participation in international humanitarian efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-347
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Dec 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery


  • Diversity
  • Female surgeons
  • Gender equity
  • Humanitarian outreach
  • Workforce


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