NEW YORK – The dual challenges of teaching open vascular surgery techniques when few are performed and reaching a generation that has a different attitude to absorbing information requires new and innovative approaches, according to an academic surgeon speaking at symposium on vascular and endovascular issues sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
“The see one, do one, teach one approach to surgical training is no longer possible,” explained, chief of the division of vascular surgery at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center Hospital.
For open procedures, the problem is a rapidly declining number of cases in the era of endovascular surgery, but Dr. Darling also recommended adjusting training to the outlook and expectations of a new generation. First observed in the millennial generation, an attitude of firm work-related boundaries is also being seen in generation Z. Generation Z, characterized by birth after 1995, is just now beginning to reach residency programs.
“The approach to work-life balance is extremely different for these individuals than it was for my generation,” Dr. Darling said. While previous generations were often motivated by fear and pressure, newer generations appear to respond less well to anxiety.
“People learn differently. Some from their tactile sense, some intellectually, and some from fear or pressure, but mostly, particularly those who are younger, now learn from positive reinforcement,” Dr. Darling said.
For teaching open procedures at his own institution, Dr. Darling has switched from the traditional model of one-on-one instruction undertaken in the surgical suite to a group approach. The limited number of open cases was the impetus, but group instruction now extends beyond the operating room.
“We have a meeting before the case, when we go over the technical aspects,” Dr. Darling explained. Fellows are asked to envision and describe potential problems and potential solutions.
“We try to make them visualize as well as verbalize exactly what will be done in the operating room,” Dr. Darling said. The plans are outlined carefully “so no one does any thinking in the OR. All the thinking is done in advance.”
Videos and simulators are teaching aids, but a great deal of learning can be accomplished independent of doing, according to Dr. Darling. Moreover, understanding the anatomy, which comes before developing surgical skills, is the same for open and endovascular procedures, so each is relevant to the other.
After witnessing an open case, all of the trainees along with the nurses and attending physicians go through a debriefing to consider the potential lessons. At Dr. Darling’s center, open procedures increasingly involve sicker and older patients, conferring case analysis with a particularly vital learning function in the curriculum.
Because of the diminishing number of open cases and the diminishing open skills, even among experienced vascular surgeons, residents in an increasing number of training programs “graduate without any open experience, which is a little shocking,” Dr. Darling said.
Importantly, group instruction, although valuable and necessary for exposing residents and fellows to open vascular surgery, has its own lessons to impart even if it was born out of necessity.
“We always emphasize that it is not the sewing that counts, it is the setup that counts,” said Dr. Darling, indicating that this is a clear message when the group is assembled for case planning. The group planning also emphasizes that surgery is a team sport.
“All of us is smarter than one of us,” said Dr. Darling, articulating the implicit message of group training.
Although this is a departure from a bygone era where infallible surgeons ruled the OR, it is fits nicely with changing attitudes about the best attributes of a competent surgeon.