Remediation Programs Linked To Reduced Attrition Among Surgical Residents Interview with:

Christian de Virgilio, MD LA BioMed lead researcher and corresponding author for the study He also is the former director of the general surgery residency program Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the recipient of several teaching awards.

Dr. de Virgilio

Christian de Virgilio, MD
LA BioMed lead researcher and corresponding author for the study
He also is the former director of the general surgery residency program
Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the recipient of several teaching awards. What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Recent forecasts have predicted the United States will have a deficit of as many as 29,000 surgeons by 2030 because of the expected growth in the nation’s population and the aging of the Baby Boomers. This expected shortfall in surgeons has made the successful training of the next generation of surgeons even more important than it was before. Yet recent studies have shown that as many as one in five general surgery residents leave their training programs before completion to pursue other specialties.

Our team of researchers studied 21 training programs for general surgeons and published our findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association Surgery (JAMA Surgery) on August 16, 2017. What we found was the attrition rate among residents training in general surgery was lower than previously determined – just 8.8% instead of 20% – in the 21 programs we surveyed. Our study also found that program directors’ attitudes and support for struggling residents and resident education were significantly different when the authors compared high- and low-attrition programs.

General surgeons specialize in the most common surgical procedures, including abdominal, trauma, gastrointestinal, breast, cancer, endocrine and skin and soft tissue surgeries. General surgery residency training follows medical school and generally requires five to seven years. The programs are offered through universities, university affiliated hospitals and independent programs.

In this study, the research team surveyed 12 university-based programs, three program affiliated with a university and six independent programs. In those programs, 85 of the 966 general surgery residents failed to complete their training during the five-year period the research team studied, July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2015. Of those who failed to complete their general surgery training, 15 left during the first year of training; 34 during the second year, and 36 during the third year or later.

Notably, we found a nearly seven-fold difference between the training program with the lowest attrition rate, 2.2%, and the one with the highest rate, 14.3%, over the five-year period surveyed. In the programs with lower attrition rates, we found about one in five residents received some support or remediation to help ensure they would complete their In the programs with higher attrition rates, the research team reported that only about one in 15 residents received such remediation. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: General surgery residents were more likely to complete their training in programs that offered more opportunities for formal or informal remediation programs that were designed to improve their deficiencies (or weaknesses). We feel that some program directors view themselves more as gatekeepers whose responsibility is to redirect general surgery residents who should not be surgeons, whereas others see themselves as shepherds whose role is to help guide those residents who are initially struggling to successfully complete the rigors of surgical residency.

Residents’ early departures from their general surgery training programs can have an adverse impact on the morale of the other residents who continue in the program and on the training schedules for these programs. These losses also threaten both the individual programs and the medical profession’s ability to meet the future needs for general surgeons to care for our nation’s population. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Further study is needed to fully understand how to reduce attrition rates, including a survey of a larger number of training programs. Why is this an issue for the medical community and for the patients it serves?

Response: Ensuring we have an adequate number of general surgeons will be important to the future health of our nation. The Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education of the nation’s future physicians, has predicted a shortage of surgeons by 2030, ranging from 19,800 to 29,000. The association found the number of surgeons in training remains about the same as in previous years but is not keeping pace with population growth, which is expected to grow by about 12% by 2030. Also by 2030, the number of U.S. residents aged 65 and older is expected to increase by 55%, and the number of people aged 75 and older will grow by 73% during the same period. We need to support our future surgeons if we wish to serve this growing population.

Schwed AC, Lee SL, Salcedo ES, Reeves ME, Inaba K, Sidwell RA, Amersi F, Are C, Arnell TD, Damewood RB, Dent DL, Donahue T, Gauvin J, Hartranft T, Jacobsen GR, Jarman BT, Melcher ML, Mellinger JD, Morris JB, Nehler M, Smith BR, Wolfe M, Kaji AH, de Virgilio C. Association of General Surgery Resident Remediation and Program Director Attitudes With Resident Attrition. JAMA Surg. Published online August 16, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2017.2656

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

Last Updated on August 22, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD