General surgery workloads and practice patterns in the United States, 2007 to 2009: a 10-year update from the American Board of Surgery

Ann Surg. 2011 Sep;254(3):520-5; discussion 525-6. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e31822cd175.


Objective: To assess changes in general surgery workloads and practice patterns in the past decade.

Background: Nearly 80% of graduating general surgery residents pursue additional training in a surgical subspecialty. This has resulted in a shortage of general surgeons, especially in rural areas. The purpose of this study is to characterize the workloads and practice patterns of general surgeons versus certified surgical subspecialists and to compare these data with those from a previous decade.

Methods: The surgical operative logs of 4968 individuals recertifying in surgery 2007 to 2009 were reviewed. Data from 3362 (68%) certified only in Surgery (GS) were compared with 1606 (32%) with additional American Board of Medical Specialties certificates (GS+). Data from GS surgeons were also compared with data from GS surgeons recertifying 1995 to 1997. Independent variables were compared using factorial ANOVA.

Results: GS surgeons performed a mean of 533 ± 365 procedures annually. Women GS performed far more breast operations and fewer abdomen, alimentary tract and laparoscopic procedures compared to men GS (P < 0.001). GS surgeons recertifying at 10 years performed more abdominal, alimentary tract and laparoscopic procedures compared to those recertifying at 20 or 30 years (P < 0.001). Rural GS surgeons performed far more endoscopic procedures and fewer abdominal, alimentary tract, and laparoscopic procedures than urban counterparts (P < 0.001). The United States medical school graduates had similar workloads and distribution of operations to international medical graduates. Compared to 1995 to 1997, GS surgeons from 2007 to 2009 performed more procedures, especially endoscopic and laparoscopic. GS+ surgeons performed 15% to 33% of all general surgery procedures.

Conclusions: GS practice patterns are heterogeneous; gender, age, and practice setting significantly affect operative caseloads. A substantial portion of general surgery procedures currently are performed by GS+ surgeons, whereas GS surgeons continue to perform considerable numbers of specialty operations. Reduced general surgery operative experience in GS+ residencies may negatively impact access to general surgical care. Similarly, narrowing GS residency operative experience may impair specialty operation access.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education
  • General Surgery / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Specialization
  • Specialties, Surgical / statistics & numerical data
  • Specialty Boards*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / education
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Workload / statistics & numerical data*