"It's Like Learning by the Seat of Your Pants": Surgeons Lack Formal Training in Opioid Prescribing

J Surg Educ. 2020 Sep 8;S1931-7204(20)30237-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.07.003. Online ahead of print.


Objective: To determine the training surgical residents and faculty receive on opioid prescribing, and to identify opportunities for curricula development to fill training gaps.

Design: We conducted qualitative semi-structured interviews and surveys. After applying an overarching organizational framework, we used an iterative, team-based process to develop relevant inductive codes. We then performed thematic analyses to identify and catalogue critical domains related to surgeons' education about opioid prescribing.

Setting: Tertiary care academic medical center.

Participants: Maximum variation purposive sampling was used to recruit general surgery residents and surgical faculty members.

Results: We interviewed 21 attending surgeons and 20 surgical residents. Surgeons reported minimal formal training on pain management and prescribing opioids. A minority of individuals described receiving opioid training in the form of continuing medical education, intern boot camp sessions, and medical school classes. Participants compensated for the lack of formal training during residency by informally learning from senior residents, consulting pain specialists, and seeking external learning resources. Increased surgical experience was correlated with increased comfort with pain management. A majority of surgeons desired formal training. The most commonly requested educational resources were opioid prescribing guidelines for common operations and recommendations for treating chronic pain patients. Residents requested that training occur early in residency to maximize the benefits received. Based on these findings, we developed a conceptual framework to explain how surgeons learn to prescribe opioids and to highlight opportunities for improvement.

Conclusions: Although surgeons routinely prescribe opioids and desire education on opioids, a majority of them do not receive any training. Instituting formal educational programs is critical for improving opioid prescribing practices among surgeons.These programs should include standard prescribing guidelines and address management of acute postoperative pain in patients with chronic pain.

Keywords: opioids; postoperative pain; quality improvement; surgical education.