Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons

Back to 2021 Program


How She Leads: Leadership Styles among Female Surgical Department Chairs
Vanessa M. Welten, MD, MPH1,2, Kirsten F. A. A. Dabekaussen, MD1, Susanna S. Hill, MD, MS3, Alexandra B. Columbus, MD, MPH4, Pamela W. Lu, MD, MPH1, Adam C. Fields, MD, MPH1, Amanda J. Reich, PhD, MPH 2, Jennifer S. Davids, MD3, Nelya Melnitchouk, MD, MSc1,2
1Department of Surgery, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; 2Center for Surgery and Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; 3Department of Surgery, University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, MA; 4Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Burlington, MA

Background: Though the proportion of women in surgical leadership positions is increasing, the overall percentage remains low. It is important to understand the leadership path of these accomplished women. We aimed to assess leadership styles and characteristics among female surgical department chairs.
Methods: Our group previously conducted semi-structured interviews with female chairs from academic surgical departments across the United States. We conducted directed content analysis of interviews utilizing a post-hoc leadership codebook developed based on literature review identifying the four most common leadership styles: transactional, passive-avoidant, servant, and transformational.
Results: Participants expressed characteristics of 3 leadership styles: transactional, servant, and transformational (Table). Servant leadership characteristics were the most common among female surgical chairs, followed by transformational characteristics. Most participants expressed the following servant leadership characteristics: “vision”, “building community”, “modeling”, “stewardship”, “empowerment”, and “puts needs of others first”. Participants described the importance of considering the needs of individuals in their department. Leadership training, in the form of formal courses and leadership experiences, also emerged as an influential theme.
Conclusion: Female surgical chairs described prominent servant and transformational leadership characteristics. Participants commonly described placing the needs and goals of their faculty and of the department ahead of their own interests. The current study emphasizes the importance of deliberate leadership training to empower the upcoming generation of surgeon leaders, particularly those in underrepresented groups in surgical leadership.


Back to 2021 Program