The riskiest job in medicine: transplant surgeons and organ procurement travel

Am J Transplant. 2009 Oct;9(10):2406-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-6143.2009.02774.x. Epub 2009 Aug 6.


Transplant surgeons are exposed to workplace risk due to the urgent nature of travel related to organ procurement. A retrospective cohort study was completed using data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients and the National Transportation Safety Board. A web-based survey was administered to members of the American Society of Transplant Surgeons. The survey response rate was 38% (281/747). Involvement in > or =1 procurement-related travel accident was reported by 15% of respondents; surgeons reported 61 accidents and 11 fatalities. Air travel was used in 26% of procurements and was involved in 56% of accidents. The risk of fatality while traveling on an organ procurement flight was estimated to be 1000 times higher than scheduled commercial flight. Involvement in a 'near miss accident' was reported by 80.8%. Only 16% of respondents reported feeling 'very safe' while traveling. Procurement of organs by the geographically closest transplant center would have reduced the need for air travel (>100 nautical miles) for lung, heart, liver and pancreas procurement by 35%, 43%, 31% and 49%, respectively (p < 0.0001). These reductions were observed in each Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network region. Though these data have important limitations, they suggest that organ procurement travel is associated with significant risk. Improvements in organ procurement travel are needed.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • General Surgery*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tissue Donors*
  • Transplantation*
  • Travel*
  • Workforce