The Value of Surgical Graduate Medical Education (GME) Programs Within An Integrated Health Care System

J Surg Educ. Nov-Dec 2019;76(6):e173-e181. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2019.08.006. Epub 2019 Aug 26.


Objective: Surgical graduate medical education (GME) programs add both significant cost and complexity to the mission of teaching hospitals. While expenses tied directly to surgical training programs are well tracked, overall cost-benefit accounting has not been performed. In this study, we attempt to better define the costs and benefits of maintaining surgical GME programs within a large integrated health system.

Design: We examined the costs, in 2018 US dollars, associated with the surgical training programs within a single health system. Total health system expenses were calculated using actual and estimated direct GME expenses (salary, benefits, supplies, overhead, and teaching expenses) as well as indirect medical education (IME) expenses. IME expenses for each training program were estimated by using both Medicare percentages and the Medicare Payment Advisor Commission study. The projected cost to replace surgical trainees with advanced practitioners or hospitalists was obtained through interviews with program directors and administrators and was validated by our system's business office.

Setting: A physician lead, integrated, rural health system consisting of 8 hospitals, a medical school and a health insurance company.

Participants: GME surgical training programs within a single health system's department of surgery.

Results: Our health system's department of surgery supports 8 surgical GME programs (2 general surgery residencies along with residencies in otolaryngology, ophthalmology, oral-maxillofacial surgery, urology, pediatric dentistry, and vascular surgery), encompassing 89 trainees. Trainees work an average of 64.4 hours per week. Total health system cost per resident ranged from $249,657 to $516,783 based on specialty as well as method of calculating IME expenses. After averaging program costs and excluding IME and overhead expenses, we estimated the average annual cost per trainee to be $84,171. We projected that replacing our surgical trainees would require hiring 145 additional advanced practitioners at a cost of $166,500 each per year, or 97 hospitalists at a cost of $346,500 each per year. Excluding overhead, teaching and IME expenses, these replacements would cost the health system an estimated additional $16,651,281 or $26,119,281 per year, respectively.

Conclusions: Surgical education is an integral part of our health system and ending surgical GME programs would require large expansion of human resources and significant additional fiscal capital.

Keywords: Cost of graduate medical education; Health system costs; Practice-Based Learning and Improvement; Professionalism; Resident salary; Surgical education; Systems based practice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Delivery of Health Care, Integrated / economics*
  • Education, Medical, Graduate / economics*
  • Female
  • General Surgery / education*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rural Health Services / economics*
  • United States