Skip to main content.

KU School of Medicine resident publishes study in prestigious journal analyzing diversity rates in neurosurgery career path

KU residents and medical students published in journal Neurosurgery see room for improvement in rate of African-American medical school graduates accepted into neurosurgery residency programs, but also good results in retention.

Three doctors gather around a desk, one is seated and pointing at a laptop, while the other two doctors look at the screen.
Neurosurgery historically has lacked diversity in its practitioners. A research study led by a KU resident examined the early career trajectories of neurosurgeons to see how diversity could be increased.

Of all neurosurgeons in the United States, only 8% are female and just 1.8% are Black or African American. A group of researchers from the University of Kansas School of Medicine analyzed two key transitions on the path to becoming a neurosurgeon in hopes the results could direct efforts to increase those percentages.

Jean-Luc Kabangu, M.D, a resident in neurological surgery, is the lead author of the study that was published in the journal Neurosurgery. Five residents and two medical students from KU School of Medicine comprised the study team.

“This topic was important to our team because studying the representation of women and Black residents within neurosurgery is important for promoting equity, overcoming bias, improving patient care and driving innovation,” Kabangu said.

Matching residents

The team first analyzed how many medical students are accepted to neurosurgery programs after graduating from medical school. When medical students are looking for their first job, they depend on the National Resident Matching Program to get them the position they’d like in the specialty of their choice. After interviewing the candidates, hospitals with residency programs submit their lists of whom they’d like to hire. The matching program then pairs candidates’ preferences with residency programs’ choices.

After reviewing 1,780 applicant submissions from 2017 to 2020, the team found that males and females matched at similar rates, but Black applicants matched at a lower rate (27%) than non-Black applicants (52%).

Portrait of Jean-Luc Kabangu, MD
Jean-Luc Kabangu,

Kabangu said many studies have highlighted the underrepresentation of women in neurosurgery, citing gender bias, work-life balance and limited mentorship opportunities as reasons that the percentage remains small.

“Black physicians also are significantly underrepresented, with studies highlighting challenges such as unconscious biases, lack of role models and limited access to educational and career advancement opportunities,” he said.

“This is the first study showing a dissimilar match outcome for Black applicants,” Kabangu said. “This research raises awareness among program directors and faculty about the importance of diversity, prompting them to implement targeted recruitment strategies, mentorship programs and supportive policies that address the specific needs and barriers faced by women and Black applicants.”

Retention rates

Another critical juncture of the neurosurgery career path happens at the end of the residency. These newly minted neurosurgeons seek out employment within their specialty, and those that find positions within neurosurgery are said to be retained.

The good news is that residents were retained at similar rates, regardless of race or gender. The researchers suggested yearly follow-up studies of match and retention rates so trends could be established.

“These findings emphasize the need for further investigation and efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in neurosurgery,” Kabangu said. “Increasing diversity in the field ensures that opportunities and resources are accessible to individuals from all backgrounds, fostering a more inclusive and representative profession.”

Media Inquiries


News and Media Relations