Surgical training: the impact of changes in curriculum and experience

J Surg Educ. Jan-Feb 2011;68(1):44-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2010.08.004. Epub 2010 Nov 5.


Introduction: Craft specialties, such as surgery, rely on practice to acquire skill. Yet recent changes in training in the United Kingdom have decreased experience and altered the balance of curriculum content. Most recently, the European Working Time Directive has led to a reduction in working hours and expansion in the number of trainees. The impact that these changes have had on operative experience, patient management, communication, and teaching skills is unclear. This study aims to assess the effects of the changing curriculum and work patterns on the experience of trainees at senior house officer (SHO, equivalent to junior resident) level in general surgery.

Methods: A structured questionnaire was sent to general surgery trainees at the SHO (n = 52) and specialist registrar (SpR, n = 69) levels (equivalent to senior resident) in the Severn Deanery, United Kingdom.

Results: In all, 70% of both SHOs and SpRs responded. SpRs had spent a mean of 50 months (21 months in general surgery) at the SHO level, compared with 24 months (9 months in general surgery) for current SHOs. A total of 90% of SpRs could perform an open appendectomy unsupervised by the end of their SHO training, compared with 28% of current SHOs. In all, 63% of SpRs and 8% of SHOs could undertake inguinal hernia repair unsupervised at SHO level. In addition, 90% of SpRs and 84% of SHOs felt operative skills have declined, whereas communication and teaching skills were deemed the same or better. Of the respondents, 88% of SpRs and 76% of SHOs thought surgical training was getting worse.

Discussion: Trainees are spending less time in surgery at the SHO level, and this is reflected in reported operative ability. The introduction of communication and teaching skills into the curriculum has had a perceived benefit. The reduction in working hours must be offset by implementing measures to maximize limited training opportunities. The potential implications of these changes in training and experience on patient outcomes remain to be determined.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Curriculum / trends*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / standards
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / trends*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • General Surgery / education
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Quality Improvement
  • Specialties, Surgical / education*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United Kingdom