Is Initial Board Certification Associated With Better Early Career Surgical Outcomes?

Ann Surg. 2021 Aug 1;274(2):220-226. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000004709.


Objective: To determine if initial American Board of Surgery certification in general surgery is associated with better risk-adjusted patient outcomes for Medicare patients undergoing partial colectomy by an early career surgeon.

Background: Board certification is a voluntary commitment to professionalism, continued learning, and delivery of high-quality patient care. Not all surgeons are certified, and some have questioned the value of certification due to limited evidence that board-certified surgeons have better patient outcomes. In response, we examined the outcomes of certified versus noncertified early career general surgeons.

Methods: We identified Medicare patients who underwent a partial colectomy between 2008 and 2016 and were operated on by a non-subspecialty trained surgeon within their first 5 years of practice. Surgeon certification status was determined using the American Board of Surgery data. Generalized linear mixed models were used to control for patient-, procedure-, and hospital-level effects. Primary outcomes were the occurrence of severe complications and occurrence of death within 30 days.

Results: We identified 69,325 patients who underwent a partial colectomy by an early career general surgeon. The adjusted rate of severe complications after partial colectomy by certified (n = 4239) versus noncertified (n = 191) early-career general surgeons was 9.1% versus 10.7% (odds ratio 0.83, P = 0.03). Adjusted mortality rate for certified versus noncertified early-career general surgeons was 4.9% versus 6.1% (odds ratio 0.79, P = 0.01).

Conclusion: Patients undergoing partial colectomy by an early career general surgeon have decreased odds of severe complications and death when their surgeon is board certified.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Certification*
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Colectomy / mortality
  • Colectomy / standards*
  • Female
  • General Surgery / standards*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Specialty Boards
  • Surgeons / standards*
  • United States / epidemiology