National Comparison of Program Director Perceptions vs. Resident Reports of the Learning Environment and Well-Being

J Surg Educ. 2023 Jan;80(1):72-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2022.08.016. Epub 2022 Oct 4.


Objective: Our research objectives were to (1) assess the correlation between PD perceptions and their residents' reported experiences and (2) identify PD and program characteristics associated with alignment between PD perceptions and their residents' reports.

Design, setting, participants: A survey was administered to US general surgery residents following the 2019 American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination (ABSITE) to study wellness (burnout, thoughts of attrition, and suicidality) and mistreatment (gender discrimination, sexual harassment, racial/ethnic/religious discrimination, bullying). General surgery program directors (PDs) were surveyed about the degree to which they perceived mistreatment and wellness within their programs. Concordance between PDs' perceptions and their residents' reports was assessed using Spearman correlations. Multivariable logistic regression models examined factors associated with alignment between PDs and residents.

Results: Of 6,126 residents training at SECOND Trial-enrolled programs, 5,240 (85.5%) responded to the ABSITE survey. All 212 PDs of programs enrolled in the SECOND Trial (100%) responded to the PD survey. Nationally, the proportion of PDs perceiving wellness issues was similar to the proportion of residents reporting them (e.g., 54.9% of PDs perceive that burnout is a problem vs. 40.1% of residents experience at least one burnout symptom weekly); however, the proportion of PDs perceiving mistreatment vastly underestimated the proportion of residents reporting it (e.g., 9.3% of all PDs perceive vs. 65.9% of all residents report bullying). Correlations between PDs' perceptions of problems within their program and their residents' reports were weak for racial/ethnic/religious discrimination (r = 0.176, p = 0.019), sexual harassment (r = 0.180, p = 0.019), burnout (r = 0.198, p = 0.007), and thoughts of attrition (r = 0.193, p = 0.007), and non-existent for gender discrimination, bullying, or suicidality. Multivariable regression models did not identify any program or PD characteristics that were consistently associated with improved resident-program director alignment.

Conclusions: Resident and PD perceptions were generally disparate regarding mistreatment, burnout, thoughts of attrition, and suicidality. Reconciling this discrepancy is critical to enacting meaningful change to improve the learning environment and resident well-being.

Keywords: Mistreatment; burnout; graduate medical education; perception; program director; resident education.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Burnout, Professional* / epidemiology
  • Education, Medical, Graduate
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Learning
  • Sexual Harassment*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States