SAN FRANCISCO — Dr. Laura Scrimgeour had never met a female cardiothoracic surgeon until she met Dr. Amy Fiedler.
“I think this is a real problem for women in medicine in all fields, but especially in surgery,” Scrimgeour told CBS News.
Scrimgeour is a fellow working under Fiedler at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and the two are among only a handful of women in their field.
“I was mistaken as a nurse,” Fiedler said. “I’m a physical therapist, mistaken for food service once. I mean, nothing but a cardiac surgeon.”
Women were 32% more likely to die when treated by a male surgeon instead of a female one, according to a study by the University of Toronto’s Temerti Faculty of Medicine. The study also found that men were less likely to die at the hands of female surgeons.
“Even just looking for one person can make all the difference for some people,” Scrimgeour said.
Although more than 50% of medical school students are women, a gender gap remains in top specialties, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). AAMC found only 8% of thoracic surgeons are women.
Fiedler and Scrimgeour said getting more women in hospital leadership could lead to better family leave policies and more opportunities for female physicians. Patients can also help by requesting female doctors.
“We’re thinking about how we can get more women, get more people of color, get more diversity at the higher end of academic leadership and try to do that,” Fiedler said.
Dr. Charlene Blake is a cardiac anesthesiologist who was on a UCSF team that made history in December when it became what is believed to be the first all-female heart transplant team.
“I had to look around the room,” Blake said. “I was like, ‘Oh, we’re all women here. This is incredible. I’ve never seen that before.'”
“Every single person in that room the day we did the heart transplant deserved to be there and was a high performer and providing the best care to that patient,” Fiedler added. “And I think that’s really inspiring.”