Background: Accurate and appropriate assessment of surgical trainees requires clear determination of the skills needed for surgical competence. This study was designed to identify those skills, rank them in order of importance and translate them into behavioural terms.
Methods: A Delphi technique, using anonymous postal questionnaires, was used. All consultant surgeons in South-East Scotland were asked to identify the skills they expected of surgical trainees. Skills identified were then returned to all consultants for weighting. Differences among specialties in the importance of each item were identified using analysis of variance.
Results: The qualities identified fell into five domains: technical skills, clinical skills, interaction with patients and relatives, teamwork, and application of knowledge. Consultants from all specialties gave high weightings to the generic domains of clinical skills, teamwork, and interaction with patients and relatives.
Conclusion: This study has identified the skills considered necessary by consultant surgeons in Scotland for a successful surgical career. Contrary to expectation, consultant surgeons value many generic skills more highly than technical skills, indicating that they value well rounded doctors, not just those with technical ability. The characteristics identified are being used to develop an assessment tool for use on basic surgical trainees.