Work loads and practice patterns of general surgeons in the United States, 1995-1997: a report from the American Board of Surgery

Ann Surg. 1999 Oct;230(4):533-42; discussion 542-3. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199910000-00009.


Objective: To characterize the work loads and practice patterns of general surgeons in the United States over a 3-year period (1995 to 1997).

Methods: The surgical operative logs of 2434 "generalist" general surgeons recertifying in surgery form the basis of this report. Selected demographics of the group are as follows: location: 50% Northeast and Southeast, 21 % Midwest, 29% West and Southwest; practice type: 45% solo, 40% group, 9% academics; size of practice community: 46% highly urban, 19% rural. Parameters evaluated were the average number of procedures and their distribution by category related to geographic area, practice type, community size, and other parameters. Statistical analysis was accomplished using analysis of variance.

Results: No significant year-to-year differences were observed between cohorts. The average numbers of procedures per surgeon per year was 398, distributed as follows: abdomen 102, alimentary tract 63, breast 54, endoscopic 51, vascular 39, trauma 6, endocrine 4, and head and neck, 3. Eleven percent of the 398 procedures were performed laparoscopically. Major index cases were largely concentrated with small groups of surgeons representing 5% to 10% of the total. Significant differences were as follows: surgeons in the Northeast and West performed far fewer procedures than those elsewhere. Urban surgeons performed a few more tertiary-type procedures than did rural ones; however, rural surgeons performed many more total procedures, especially in endoscopy, laparoscopy, gynecology, genitourinary, and orthopedics. Academic surgeons performed substantially fewer total procedures as a group than did nonacademic ones and in all categories except liver, transplant, and pancreas. Male surgeons performed more procedures than did female surgeons, except those involving the breast. More procedures were done by surgeons in group practice than by those in solo practice. U.S. medical graduates and international medical graduates had similar work loads but with a different distribution.

Conclusions: This unique database will be useful in tracking trends over time. More importantly, it demonstrates that general surgery practice in the United States is extremely heterogeneous, a fact that must be acknowledged in any future workforce deliberations.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • General Surgery / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Rural Population
  • United States
  • Urban Population
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data*