Stress High Among Future Surgeons, Survey Reveals

The majority of general surgery residents in the United States say they are satisfied with their training and confident of their ability to perform, but a significant number feel that the hours and stress are straining their family life, and many express worries about future income and career prospects. The study by the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health appears in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the survey, which is believed to be the largest of its kind ever conducted, researchers questioned 4,402 surgery residents from virtually every residency program in the country to identify prevailing attitudes, training experiences, professional expectations and reasons for attrition. More than 85 percent indicated that they were satisfied with their particular program. But nearly 37 percent said that they were concerned about making enough money as a surgeon; nearly a third said the stress of their work was causing a strain on family life; and more than 15 percent said that at some time they had considered leaving the program. The researchers identified the second and third years as particularly difficult.

“Surgery is a rewarding and exciting career. But many surgery programs are losing qualified and talented trainees. These losses are devastating to programs and the profession,” said Heather Yeo, M.D., M.H.S.R., the study’s lead author and a fourth-year surgery resident at Yale.

The study also found that more men were satisfied with their residency training than women and that women were more likely to contemplate leaving. “These differences may highlight opportunities for intervention or prevention,” said Yeo, who conducted the study while a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the Yale School of Medicine.

“The surgical profession as a whole is at a crossroads. The profession has to find ways to develop and retain a diverse workforce and to address the shortage of general surgeons on the horizon,” said Leslie Curry, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health and the study’s senior author. She added, “Understanding the experiences of residents is key to these efforts. While supported, they also feel vulnerable at multiple levels, suggesting that new and enhanced supports are needed.”

This study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program at the Yale School of Medicine. The American Board of Surgery assisted with study design and survey implementation.

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