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Book Review
July 2000

The Woman in the Surgeon's Body

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by Joan Cassell, 267 pp, $35, ISBN 0-674-95467-X, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1998.

Arch Surg. 2000;135(7):873. doi:

In this book, the author, an anthropologist, describes and interprets her observations of 33 women surgeons in 5 cities in the Midwest and East Coast of North America. Her method was to "shadow" each woman for 2 to 5 days and then conduct interviews with each one. The author's interest in writing this book stemmed from a study of surgeons in the 1980s during which she encountered only 7 female general surgeons ranked higher than resident. The observations made of (mostly male) surgeons in her earlier study led her to view them as martial, macho, frequently temperamental, and arrogant. The author wondered if the few female surgeons possessed the same traits as their male counterparts. The goal of this research was to determine "whether the women surgeons differed from their male colleagues; if so, how; and whether such differences, if they existed, affected patient care." The study of women surgeons was conducted in the early 1990s with support from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Difficulties encountered by the author included identifying and locating women surgeons and obtaining funding to travel to numerous sites. I mention these limitations because they most certainly affected the author's observations and conclusions.

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