Voluntary changes in surgery career paths: a survey of the program directors in surgery

J Am Coll Surg. 2003 Apr;196(4):611-6. doi: 10.1016/S1072-7515(02)01832-X.


Background: This article attempts to quantify the current scope of attrition, identify the reasons why categorical residents are leaving general surgery residency programs voluntarily, and correlate the program directors' and residents' perspectives.

Study design: A questionnaire asked the Program Directors of general surgery residency programs how many categorical residents left voluntarily in the 2000-2001 academic year, their postgraduate (PGY) levels, why they left, and where they went. Another questionnaire asked the residents why they entered surgery and why they left. The surveys' responses were compared.

Results: A total of 206 programs (81%) responded. One hundred ten programs (53%) reported voluntarily attrition of 167 categorical residents (mean: 0.8 residents per program for all responders and 1.5 residents per program for programs that reported attrition). Seventy-three programs (66%) lost one resident; 23 programs (21%), 2 residents; 9 programs (8%), 3 residents; 4 programs (4%), 4 residents; and 1 program (<1%), 5 residents. Eighty-five PGY-1 residents (51%), 42 PGY-2 residents (25%), 27 PGY-3 residents (16%), and 13 PGY-4 residents (8%) left. The most common reasons for attrition cited by the program directors were personal and work hours/lifestyle in 40% and 35%, respectively. One hundred five residents (63%) entered other fields of medicine; 40 residents transferred to other general surgery programs. Net voluntary attrition, defined as the number of residents who left general surgery voluntarily (127) divided by the resident population at risk, was 3%, indicating that 97% of the residents at risk in the responding programs remained in general surgery.

Conclusions: Most surgery programs that responded were affected by attrition in 2000-2001, with approximately one-third losing more than one resident. Attrition tends to occur early in training. Most residents enter other specialties, primarily for quality-of-life reasons. But many stay in general surgery.

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice*
  • Faculty, Medical
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Student Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States