The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Resident Education and Wellness: A National Survey of Plastic Surgery Residents

Plast Reconstr Surg. 2021 Sep 1;148(3):462e-474e. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000008281.


Background: The coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a profound effect on surgical training programs, reflecting decreases in elective surgical cases and emergency restructuring of clinical teams. The effect of these measures on U.S. plastic surgery resident education and wellness has not been characterized.

Methods: An institutional review board-exempted anonymous survey was developed through expert panel discussion and pilot testing. All current U.S. plastic surgery trainees were invited to complete a cross-sectional 28-question survey in April of 2020. Respondents were queried regarding demographic information, educational experiences, and wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: A total of 668 residents responded to the survey, corresponding to a 56.1 percent response rate. Sex, training program type, postgraduate year, and region were well represented within the sample. Nearly all trainees (97.1 percent) reported restructuring of their clinical teams. One-sixth of respondents were personally redeployed to assist with the care of COVID-19 patients. A considerable proportion of residents felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on their education (58.1 percent) and wellness (84.8 percent). Residents found virtual curriculum effective and meaningful, and viewed an average of 4.2 lectures weekly. Although most residents did not anticipate a change in career path, some reported negative consequences on job prospects or fellowship.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic had a considerable impact on U.S. plastic surgery education and wellness. Although reductions in case volume may be temporary, this may represent a loss of critical, supervised clinical experience. Some effects may be positive, such as the development of impactful virtual lectures that allow for cross-institutional curriculum.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • COVID-19*
  • Career Choice
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Distance / methods
  • Education, Distance / organization & administration
  • Education, Distance / trends
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency* / methods
  • Internship and Residency* / organization & administration
  • Internship and Residency* / trends
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Physical Distancing
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surgery, Plastic / education*
  • Surgery, Plastic / organization & administration
  • Surgery, Plastic / trends
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States