Yelling, cursing less likely to break out in operating rooms when female surgeons are present

Science | AAAS | 7/2/2018 | Staff
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In 2015, a surgeon at a teaching hospital in Georgia—exasperated with his surgical team—shouted, “Am I not speaking clearly?! I’m going to have to start yelling!” Later, he slammed his headlamp to the floor and stormed out of the operating room. His team, which hadn’t yet finished the surgical procedure, was left stunned.

Conflicts like this flare up on occasion in operating rooms, where teams of skilled professionals work together in high-pressure environments. What made this conflict unusual was that an anthropologist—Laura Jones of Emory University in Atlanta—was in the room, carefully taking notes.

Observations—which - Nature - Interactions - Source - Conflict

Her observations—which, all told, logged the nature of 6348 interactions during 200 operations—uncovered a surprising source of conflict in operating rooms: the gender balance of the surgical team. Conflict was most likely when male surgeons worked with male-dominated surgical teams, Jones and colleagues report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Operations went more smoothly, with less yelling and other forms of conflict, when the surgeon was female or when male surgeons were surrounded by mostly women.

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“It’s just absolutely fascinating,” says Joyce Wahr, an anesthesiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis who has studied patient safety but wasn’t involved in the new research. “I don’t think any of us have thought of it in that way. We just generally thought that certain people were jerks.”

Researchers - Conflict - Operating - Rooms - Surveys

Researchers have studied conflict in operating rooms, but they’ve mostly used surveys and interviews, not direct observations of interactions as they happen. The idea for the latest study was hatched when an anesthesiologist read a book about chimpanzees and their struggle for power over one another, which biologists study by logging different kinds of behavior. He told Frans de Waal, the book’s author and a primatologist...
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