Unconscious Biases Negatively Impact Relationships With Colleagues, Patients

Everyone has biases. But with increased awareness, you can “train” yourself out of bias and make informed decisions based on actual data. A session organized by Women in Thoracic Surgery (WTS) will provide attendees with the tools they need to do just that.

Unconscious Bias


1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Room 30ABCD

“Our biases can affect the recruitment and retention of surgeons in our field, our relationships with our colleagues, and our relationships with our patients—typically in a negative fashion,” said DuyKhanh P. Ceppa, MD, from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, who helped plan the session. “We must foster a more inclusive environment in order to thrive.”

She explained that biases in cardiothoracic surgery tend to impact women and minorities in particular.

“How many times have we been turned down by a patient for a more senior, male partner? How many times have we lost future referrals due to a known complication from surgery when a male colleague would not have suffered the same backlash?” asked Dr. Ceppa, adding that the published literature has noted similar trends as a result of biases based on race and age.

She said that particularly concerning is the fact that although medical school classes have consisted of about 50% women for the last 15-20 years, fewer than 10% of board-certified cardiothoracic surgeons are women. Last spring, STS and WTS collaborated on a survey assessing the prevalence of sexual harassment and gender bias in the specialty; more than 800 cardiothoracic surgeons responded, and the survey results will be presented during the session.

“Without giving too much away, the survey results confirm that the discipline of cardiothoracic surgery is a ‘chilly’ one toward women,” Dr. Ceppa said. “We need more women, as well as men who are cognizant of our field’s implicit biases, in leadership roles to fully address and correct this issue.”

The session also will include information on how mentors and sponsors can play key roles in breaking down biases that exist in the specialty.

“We hope that attendees will come out of the session with a greater awareness of their own biases and an understanding that they can overcome their biases with deliberate practice,” Dr. Ceppa said.