Booster Shots

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For surgeons, size matters

July 24, 2008 |  4:19 pm

When it comes to laparoscopic surgical instruments, one size does not fit all. A University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health survey found that commonly used laparoscopic surgical instruments Scalpel7 are built to be held by the average male hand. "These instruments are designed by the instrument companies to fit the hands of male surgeons," says Dr. Peter Nichol, professor of surgery and the survey's senior author.

He asked surgical residents about the ease of using the surgical instruments, including laparoscopic staplers and scalpels, and found their answers correlated with glove size. The average glove size of female residents was 6.5, while the average male resident wore a 7.5 glove. The women reported that they often needed to use two hands to use the operating room tools effectively, while men could do the same maneuvers using just one hand. Men with smaller than average hands reported the same problems.

A 2004 study by researchers at UC Davis surveyed 726 surgical residents and came up with the same results.

Now that about half of medical students are women, and greater numbers of them are going into surgery, it might be time for operating room equipment manufacturers to take a cue from, say, seat belt innovators who realized that buckling up across a female bosom is different from attaching the device across a male flat chest. Or from tool innovators who have discovered that when women swing hammers or wield drills, they get better results when the tools fit their hands.

-- Susan Brink

Photo: ER Productions/CORBIS