Trainee Autonomy in Minimally Invasive General Surgery in the United States: Establishing a National Benchmark

Jordan D. Bohnen, Brian C. George, Joseph B. Zwischenberger, Daniel E. Kendrick, Shari L. Meyerson, Mary C. Schuller, Jonathan P. Fryer, Gary L. Dunnington, Emil R. Petrusa, Denise W. Gee

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8 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is an integral component of General Surgery training and practice. Yet, little is known about how much autonomy General Surgery residents achieve in MIS procedures, and whether that amount is sufficient. This study aims to establish a contemporary benchmark for trainee autonomy in MIS procedures. We hypothesize that trainees achieve progressive autonomy, but fail to achieve meaningful autonomy in a substantial percentage of MIS procedures prior to graduation.

SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Fifty General Surgery residency programs in the United States, from September 1, 2015 to March 19, 2020. All Categorical General Surgery Residents and Attending Surgeons within these programs were eligible.

DESIGN: Data were collected prospectively from attending surgeons and categorical General Surgery residents. Trainee autonomy was assessed using the 4-level Zwisch scale (Show and Tell, Active Help, Passive Help, and Supervision Only) on a smartphone application (SIMPL). MIS procedures included all laparoscopic, thoracoscopic, endoscopic, and endovascular/percutaneous procedures performed by residents during the study. Primary outcomes of interest were "meaningful autonomy" rates (i.e., scores in the top 2 categories of the Zwisch scale) by postgraduate year (PGY), and "progressive autonomy" (i.e., differences in autonomy between PGYs) in MIS procedures, as rated by attending surgeons. Primary outcomes were determined with descriptive statistics, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Z-tests. Secondary analyses compared (i) progressive autonomy between common MIS procedures, and (ii) progressive autonomy in MIS vs. non-MIS procedures.

RESULTS: A total of 106,054 evaluations were performed across 50 General Surgery residency programs, of which 38,985 (37%) were for MIS procedures. Attendings performed 44,842 (42%) of all evaluations, including 16,840 (43%) of MIS evaluations, while residents performed the rest. Overall, meaningful autonomy in MIS procedures increased from 14.1% (PGY1s) to 75.9% (PGY5s), with significant (p < 0.001) increases between each PGY level. Meaningful autonomy rates were higher in the MIS vs. non-MIS group [57.2% vs. 48.0%, p < 0.001], and progressed more rapidly in MIS vs. non-MIS, (p < 0.05). The 7 most common MIS procedures accounted for 83.5% (n = 14,058) of all MIS evaluations. Among PGY5s performing these procedures, meaningful autonomy rates (%) were: laparoscopic appendectomy (95%); laparoscopic cholecystectomy (93%); diagnostic laparoscopy (87%); upper/lower endoscopy (85%); laparoscopic hernia repair (72%); laparoscopic partial colectomy (58%); and laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy (45%).

CONCLUSIONS: US General Surgery residents receive progressive autonomy in MIS procedures, and appear to progress more rapidly in MIS versus non-MIS procedures. However, residents fail to achieve meaningful autonomy in nearly 25% of MIS cases in their final year of residency, with higher rates of meaningful autonomy only achieved in a small subset of basic MIS procedures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e52-e62
JournalJournal of surgical education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by a grant from the American Board of Surgery and contributions from members of the Procedural Learning and Safety Collaborative (PLSC, ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Autonomy
  • Benchmarking
  • Competency-based assessment
  • Minimally invasive surgery (MIS)
  • Surgical education

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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