How Do Skills Compare of Trainees vs Experienced Surgeons?

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


May 23, 2017

The aim of a recent study published in the British Journal of Surgery on surgical education performed in Australia was to compare a set of nontechnical surgical skills measured in surgical trainees (n = 40) with the same skills measured in experienced, practicing surgeons (n = 30).[1]

About half of both groups were general surgeons. Nontechnical skills included 12 categories such as information gathering, exchanging information with team members, coordinating team activities, and coping with pressure. Using a previously validated scoring system, the authors plotted nontechnical skill scores against time since completing surgical training. Highest scores were observed shortly after completion of training with an unexpected decline in scores with increasing time after completion of training.


To be a successful surgeon requires not only surgical or technical skills to do the correct procedure accurately, carefully, with a low complication rate, but an additional set of skills that have nothing to do with ability to operate. Many studies show that technical skills improve with volume of procedures performed, and the number of procedures performed is a metric commonly used for evaluating a surgeon's qualifications.

More recently, nontechnical skills are being recognized as equally important to achieve the best results after an operation. Training in the nontechnical components of surgery is now part of surgical training programs; this report suggests that even experienced surgeons would benefit from recurrent or remedial training. The limitations of this study relate to the small sample size and the performance in a single country.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.