Are surgeons really arrogant, or is it just that they aren’t “agreeable?”

Surgeons do tend to get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to their personality traits. When we interviewed Mimi Le, who was at the time a final year med student, she described her first rotation with a surgeon who was “one of the most intimidating people” she had ever met in her life. She also thought that he was a stereotypical surgeon, a “cold, scary man.”

personality traits of a surgeonAustralian Doctor also published an article a few years back titled Lose the arrogance, Australian surgeons told which suggested that a patient is more likely to complain about a doctor, especially a surgeon in cases where they come across as overconfident, perhaps to the point of arrogance.

However, a recent study published in the Journal of Surgical Research suggests that although there appear to be inherent personality differences between surgical and non-surgical specialties, maybe it’s a lack of “agreeableness” that causes surgeons to be seen as arrogant.

The study was based on survey data collected from faculty and house staff in the departments of surgery, medicine, and family medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. There were 192 respondents to the survey, and:

  • Surgeons scored lower on agreeableness compared to non-surgeons (p<0.05)
  • Surgery faculty scored lower in agreeableness compared to surgery house staff (p = 0.001)
  • Surgeons scored significantly higher on conscientiousness and extraversion (p<0.05)
  • The non-surgeon faculty scored higher on extraversion compared to non-surgeon house staff (p = 0.04)

So while it’s easy to give surgeons a hard time for their personality traits, perhaps it would be worth considering that they could be an excellent source of arguments if that is the style of communication you are looking to engage in! ;-)

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