Surgical residents’ perception of competence and relevance of the clinical curriculum to future practice.

Fronza JS, Prystowsky JP, DaRosa D, Fryer JP. 

Journal of Surgical Education. 2012 Nov-Dec



General surgery residents maintain a case log throughout residency in order to achieve a targeted number of designated operations. Program directors must certify that each graduate is competent to enter general surgery practice without direct supervision. Our purpose was twofold, to determine: 1) graduates’ perception of competence and relevance of specific operations to their practice; and 2) if case volume is related to competence.


Six classes from a general surgery residency program (n=26) were surveyed one year after graduation. The survey was piloted and revised base on findings. It listed 67 operations encompassing all facets of general surgery. Each operation corresponded to two four-point scales (strongly agree to strongly disagree). One scale was headed with “I was well prepared to work-up, independently perform the operation, and effectively care for the patient post-operatively” and the other “This operation is relevant to my current practice profile”. A linear regression analysis was utilized to study the relationship between total case volume and overall competence. An unpaired T-test was utilized to study the relationship between volume of specific operations and perceptions of competence.


Twenty-two graduates completed the survey (85% response rate). All respondents felt prepared to perform 24% (16/67) of the operations. Fifty percent or more of respondents felt prepared to perform 91% (61/67) of the operations. Fifty percent or more did not feel competent performing the surgical treatment of necrotizing enterocolitis, orchiopexy, transhiatal esophagectomy, adrenalectomy, and open/endovascular abdominal aortic aneurysm repair. Twenty-six operations were felt to be irrelevant to the practice of 50% or more of graduates. No operation was unanimously felt to be relevant. For 12% of operations (8/67) at least 10% of graduates felt the operation was relevant to their practice but were not comfortable performing it. These operations (abdominoperineal resection, transanal excision of tumor, transhiatal esophagectomy, superficial inguinal lymph node dissection, right hepatectomy, whipple, colonoscopy, and adrenalectomy) were considered to be in need of educational improvement at a program level. After analyzing individual case logs, increased case volume only correlated with competence for esophagectomy (5 vs. 1 p = .014), EGD (32 vs. 9 p = .018), orchiopexy (2.5 vs. 0 p = .03), and adrenalectomy (3 vs. 1 p = .001). Total major operations performed did not correlate with overallcompetence (p = .12).


As program directors must document graduates’ competency they must do so with confidence. Our results suggest graduates to not feel competent performing many operations, and several are relevant to their practice. Competence in all aspects of general surgery may be unrealistic, even with robust volume. These findings might help in the restructuring curricula of residency.

PMID: 23111048