The resident experience on trauma: declining surgical opportunities and career incentives? Analysis of data from a large multi-institutional study.

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The surgical resident experience with trauma has changed. Many residents are exposed to predominantly nonoperative patient care experiences while on trauma rotations. Data from a large multicenter study were analyzed to estimate surgical resident exposure to trauma laparotomy, diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL), and focused abdominal sonography for trauma (U/S).


Centers completed a self-report questionnaire on their institutional demographics, admissions, and procedure for a 2-year period (1998-1999).


A total of 82 trauma centers that provide resident teaching were included. The included centers represent over 247,000 trauma admissions. The majority of trauma centers (65.9%) had > 80% blunt injury. Although all centers performed laparotomies, other results were more variable. For U/S, 24.2% performed none at all and 47.0% performed fewer than two U/S examinations per month. For DPLs, 3.8% performed none and 66.7% performed fewer than two per month. Assuming 1 night of 4 on call, the average surgical resident training at a trauma center performing > 80% blunt trauma has the potential to participate in only 15 trauma laparotomies, 6 diagnostic peritoneal lavages, and 45 ultrasound examinations per year. In addition, the resident will care for an average of 500 blunt trauma patients before performing a splenectomy or liver repair.


Surgical resident experience on most trauma services is heavily weighted to nonoperative management, with a relatively low number of procedures, little experience with DPL, and highly variable experience with ultrasound. These data have serious implications for resident training and recruitment into the specialty.

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