Same-sex and cardiothoracic surgical teams are riddled with most conflict, study finds

Hierarchies and gender dynamics can influence the amount of conflict present in an operating room, according to a study published in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta and Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente observed 200 surgeries, logging social interactions between clinical team members to assess gender dynamics and hierarchies, which can contribute to team conflict while operating on patients.

Lead study author Laura Jones, PhD, a medical anthropologist at Emory, told STAT her team was surprised by how different one operating room dynamic could be from another, just based on who was in the room.

Dr. Jones' observations, taken from 6,348 social interactions, revealed a team's gender balance served as the main source of conflict within operating rooms. Conflict surfaced more frequently when male surgeons worked with male-dominated surgical teams, while operations were more smooth and contained less yelling when the surgeon was female or when male surgeons worked in female-dominated groups.

"Much of what stresses them out is petty little things and interpersonal relationships," Dr. Jones told STAT.

The level of conflict in the OR also varied by specialty, with cardiothoracic surgical teams demonstrating the most conflict. However, researchers said it was important to note the gender composition within each specialty. For example, more than 95 percent of cardiothoracic surgeries were dominated by men. Orthopedic and neurosurgery teams also were mainly comprised of men, while gynecology departments mainly staffed women. "With more men in the room, the probability of cooperation dropped — especially when the attending surgeon was a man as well," according to STAT.

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