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General surgeons getting less vascular training

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The shifting nature of practice affects training

Vascular surgical practice has evolved with the introduction of minimally invasive technology and advancement of endovascular techniques, and as such, the training of the vascular surgical specialist too has evolved. This article highlights the effect of these technological advancements on the vascular surgical fellowship training experience and points out the effect of this embracing of endovascular techniques by academic centers in their general surgery trainee vascular surgical experience. Open operative case numbers are declining and endovascular case numbers are increasing significantly.

As traditionally performed open procedures are being substituted for endovascular repairs, the open operative experience for vascular surgery trainees is declining or staying stable at the expense of the general surgery resident experience. Open cases (open aneurysm repairs, aortofemoral artery bypasses, visceral artery bypasses, carotid endarterectomies), because they are performed infrequently now, have become fellow cases.

Dr. Erica L. Mitchell

Endovascular cases, which have increased over 300%-400%, too are essentially fellow cases (or in 0+5 programs, which are not discussed in this manuscript, vascular surgery resident cases) because the endovascular skill set does not appear to translate or transfer (and therefore is not considered relevant to the general surgery resident planning on a fellowship or career in the traditional surgical specialties) into open and laparoscopic skills desired by general surgery trainees.

Unfortunately, this open to endovascular operative experience shift will only increase with the introduction and early adoption (in academic centers) of complex endovascular techniques for the management of complex obstructive and aneurysmal arterial disease. A review of case log data for 0+5 and 5+2 residents completing programs in 2014-2015 reveals the operative experience and continued decline in open operative case numbers and increases in endovascular case numbers.

Vascular surgery training programs and their faculties have a responsibility to make sure the operative experience of general surgery residents is a worthwhile one. We, the faculty, need to keep encouraging general surgery residents to come to the operating room, even if they are not the primary surgeons. To make this worthwhile for them (because residents will not come to the operating room if there is nothing to be gained for themselves), we have to let them participate in the case somehow. One of the most critical aspects of a vascular surgical procedure is the operative exposure.

Having the general surgery residents participate in the vascular exposure is not only formative to their understanding of surgical anatomy, and applicable to all aspects of surgical practice, it is also critical to trainee development of decision making, judgment, and situational awareness. These exposures can and should be logged, using the e-code, to receive ACGME case log credit for vascular surgical procedures. E-codes, additionally, allow more than one resident to take credit for an arterial exposure and repair. We must also encourage trainees to come to the angio suite, while these cases, on the outset do not seem relevant to general surgery training, they do provide the learner with a greater appreciation of the complexity of vascular anatomy.

Importantly, as long as we continue to train vascular surgery specialists via the traditional 5+2 paradigm, we must keep general surgery residents, rotating through our services, interested and engaged in the management of vascular diseases. The simplest way to engage them is to make them feel relevant and to make them feel relevant they have to participate, both inside and outside of the operating room. It is, after all, our duty as surgical educators and advocates for our specialty to train the next generation of vascular surgical specialists!

Dr. Erica L. Mitchell is professor of surgery, program director for vascular surgery, and vice-chair of quality, department of surgery, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland. She is an associate medical editor of Vascular Specialist.




Vascular surgery fellow case logs reflect an increase in endovascular interventions, but general surgery residents may be missing out on training opportunities, according to a study of national case data.

In addition, general surgery residents saw a decrease in open vascular surgery cases, which was not reflected among the vascular surgery fellows, according to Dr. Rose C. Pedersen and colleagues in the department of surgery, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. The report was published online in Annals of Vascular Surgery (doi: 10.1016/j.avsg.2016.02.008).

The paper was originally presented at the 2105 annual meeting of the Southern California Vascular Society. The study reports findings of a review of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education national case log reports from 2001 to 2012.

During that period, the number of general surgery residents increased from 1,021 to 1,098, while the number of vascular surgery fellows increased from 96 to 121. The total number of vascular cases logged by the vascular fellows significantly increased by 161%, from an average of 298 cases to 762 cases over the time period assessed. During that same period, vascular cases done by general surgery residents significantly decreased by 40%, from an average of 186 to 116 cases.

In terms of open cases. vascular fellows saw a significant 43% decrease in open abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) cases, going from 26 to 15, and a slight but significant increase in carotid endarterectomy cases logged (44 to 49). Hemodialysis access and major amputations also both increased significantly. A decreases in open surgery for peripheral obstructive disease was small and not significant.

General surgery residents saw decreases in all open surgery areas over the time period: AAA cases fell significantly by 78% (9 cases to 2 cases); carotid endarterectomies decreased significantly from 23 to 12 cases; and surgery for peripheral obstructive disease fell significantly from 21 to 8). Hemodialysis access cases and major amputations both decreased as well, but not significantly.

Endovascular cases increased from 2001 to 2012 for both vascular fellows and general surgery residents. Vascular fellows saw endovascular AAA repair significantly increase from an average of 17 to 46 cases, while those for general surgery residents rosed from roughly 1 to 3 cases. Similarly, endovascular interventions for peripheral obstructive disease significantly increased for vascular fellows from 17 to 85, and from 1.3 to 4 for general surgery residents.

“The contemporary management of abdominal aortic aneurysmal diseases and peripheral obstructive diseases has been particularly changed by endovascular therapies that have been adopted into the training experience of vascular surgery fellows, but not those of general surgery residents. Open surgery experience has decreased overall for general surgery residents in all major categories, a change not seen in vascular fellows,” the researchers concluded.

The authors reported no relevant disclosures.

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