Background: Traditionally, development of physician leadership has occurred at random in surgical training. One possible reason is that surgical educators have focused on detailed instruction on critical patient situations, resuscitation, and technical skills, but they have provided little formal training in the essential leadership skills.
Methods: To determine resident perceptions about the importance of these skills and individual strengths and weaknesses in these areas, a questionnaire was administered to 43 residents in our general surgery program. In part one of the questionnaire, the residents ranked 18 leadership skills on a scale of 1 to 4 in importance ("not important," "minimally important," "somewhat important," and "very important") for career development. The second portion of the questionnaire asked the residents to rate themselves on a similar scale with regard to their personal confidence and competence in these same areas.
Results: Twenty-three residents (53%) completed the entire questionnaire. The majority of the residents (92%) rated all 18 leadership skills "somewhat" or "very important" for career development. More than 50% of the residents rated themselves as not competent or minimally competent in 10 of the 18 areas. Ethics was the only area in which >75% of the residents believed themselves to be more than minimally competent. There were no significant differences between postgraduate training levels in any of the parameters calculated.
Conclusions: We conclude that although residents see these nontraditional topics as an important part of their professional education, they do not necessarily feel confident or competent in these areas. Establishing a conscious effort to teach these topics and to emphasize their importance during training will enhance residents' self-image, performance, and potential as future leaders.