The optimal timing of laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC) in patients with biliary pancreatitis is not standardized. Our objective was to determine if patients with mild gallstone pancreatitis (three or fewer Ranson's criteria) can safely proceed to LC as soon as serum amylase is decreasing and abdominal tenderness is improving. We reviewed the charts of all adults admitted to our institution with gallstone pancreatitis from January 1999 until June 2002 who had LC performed by either surgeon 1 (group 1) or surgeon 2 (group 2). Surgeon 1 preferred to delay surgery until normalization of amylase and complete resolution of abdominal tenderness, whereas surgeon 2 preferred to proceed to LC as soon as serum amylase was decreasing and abdominal tenderness was improving. The two groups were well matched for sex, age, Ranson's criteria, and percentage requiring endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. Average total hospital stay was 4.7 days in group 1 versus 3.5 days in group 2 (P = 0.01). There was no statistical difference in complication rate between the two groups (10% in group 1 vs 11% in group 2, P = 0.12). The data suggest that hospital stay can be shortened with no increased complication rate if patients with mild biliary pancreatitis proceed to LC as soon as serum amylase is decreasing and abdominal tenderness is improving.