Cumulative team experience matters more than individual surgeon experience in cardiac surgery

J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2013 Feb;145(2):328-33. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2012.09.022. Epub 2012 Oct 18.


Objectives: Individual surgeon experience and the cumulative experience of the surgical team have both been implicated as factors that influence surgical efficiency. We sought to quantitatively evaluate the effects of both individual surgeon experience and the cumulative experience of attending surgeon-cardiothoracic fellow collaborations in isolated coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) procedures.

Methods: Using a prospectively collected retrospective database, we analyzed all medical records of patients undergoing isolated CABG procedure at our institution. We used multivariate generalized estimating equation regression models to adjust for patient mix and subsequently evaluated the effect of both attending cardiac surgeon experience (since fellowship graduation) and the number of previous collaborations between attending cardiac surgeons and cardiothoracic fellow pairs on cardiopulmonary bypass and crossclamp times.

Results: From 2001 to 2010, 4068 consecutive patients underwent isolated CABG procedure at our institution performed by 11 attending cardiac surgeons and 73 cardiothoracic fellows. Mean attending experience after fellowship graduation was 10.9 ± 8.0 years and mean number of cases between unique pairs of attending cardiac surgeons and cardiothoracic fellows was 10.0 ± 10.0 cases. After patient risk adjustment, both attending surgical experience since fellowship graduation and the number of previous collaborations between attending surgeons and cardiothoracic fellows were significantly associated with a reduction in cardiopulmonary bypass and crossclamp times (P < .001). The influence of attending-fellow pair experience far exceeded the influence of surgical experience with beta estimates for attending-fellow pair experience nearly three times that of attending surgeon experience.

Conclusions: Cumulative experience of attending cardiac surgeons and cardiothoracic fellows has a dramatic effect on both cardiopulmonary bypass and crossclamp times, whereas attending cardiac surgeon learning curves following fellowship graduation are clinically insignificant. Taken together, these findings suggest that the primary driver of operative efficiency in CABG procedure is the collaborative experience of the attending surgeon-cardiothoracic fellow operative team, rather than the individual experience of the attending surgeon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Boston
  • Cardiopulmonary Bypass / education
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Constriction
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Coronary Artery Bypass / adverse effects
  • Coronary Artery Bypass / education*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate*
  • Fellowships and Scholarships*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Learning Curve*
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome