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The Woman in the Surgeon's Body

The Woman in the Surgeon's Body

Joan Cassell

ISBN 9780674004078

Publication date: 10/16/2000

Surgery is the most martial and masculine of medical specialties. The combat with death is carried out in the operating room, where the intrepid surgeon challenges the forces of destruction and disease. What, then, if the surgeon is a woman? Anthropologist Joan Cassell enters this closely guarded arena to explore the work and lives of women practicing their craft in what is largely a man's world.

Cassell observed thirty-three surgeons in five North American cities over the course of three years. We follow these women through their grueling days: racing through corridors to make rounds, perform operations, hold office hours, and teach residents. We hear them, in their own words, discuss their training and their relations with patients, nurses, colleagues, husbands, and children.

Do these women differ from their male colleagues? And if so, do such differences affect patient care? The answers Cassell uncovers are as complex and fascinating as the issues she considers. A unique portrait of the day-to-day reality of these remarkable women, The Woman in the Surgeon's Body is an insightful account of how being female influences the way the surgeon is perceived by colleagues, nurses, patients, and superiors--and by herself.


  • This [is a] riveting study on women surgeons in the United States...The author studied 33 women surgeons of differing ages practising in eastern and mid-western United States. There was a wide representation of career stages and surgical subspecialties. She spent five days spread over a two week period shadowing each surgeon and also conducted structured, tape recorded interviews. She observed relationships with colleagues, patients, nurses, and trainees as well as aspects of family life. The aim of her study was to examine differences between male and female surgeons and the internal and external forces affecting these differences. Each chapter examines a key area and is vividly illustrated with extracts from the taped interviews as well as descriptions and analysis provided by the author. The frantic, fast paced, almost hysterical way of life in an American department of surgery provides an enthralling background. The author sensibly lets the interviewees speak for themselves when she wishes to make a point...I hope that this excellent book is widely read.

    —Sarah Creighton, British Medical Journal


  • Joan Cassell is a Research Associate in Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, and the author of Expected Miracles: Surgeons at Work.

Book Details

  • 280 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press