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Symbiotic or Parasitic? A Review of the Literature on the Impact of Fellowships on Surgical Residents

Plerhoples, Timothy A. MD, MPH*; Greco, Ralph S. MD; Krummel, Thomas M. MD; Melcher, Marc L. MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e318262edd5

Objective: We conducted a systematic review of published literature to gain a better understanding of the impact of advanced fellowships on surgical resident training and education.

Background: As fellowship opportunities rise, resident training may be adversely impacted.

Methods: PubMed, MEDLINE, Scopus, BIOSIS, Web of Science, and a manual search of article bibliographies. Of the 139 citations identified through the initial electronic search and screened for possible inclusion, 23 articles were retained and accepted for this review. Data were extracted regarding surgical specialty, methodology, sample population, outcomes measured, and results.

Results: Eight studies retrospectively compared the eras before and after the introduction of a fellowship or trended data over time. Approximately half used data from a single institution, whereas the other half used some form of national data or survey. Only 3 studies used national case data. Fourteen studies looked at general surgery, 6 at obstetrics-gynecology, 2 at urology, and 1 at otolaryngology. Only one study concluded that fellowships have a generally positive impact on resident education, whereas 9 others found a negative impact. The remaining 13 studies found mixed results (n = 6) or minimal to no impact (n = 7).

Conclusions: The overall impact of advanced surgical fellowships on surgical resident education and training remains unclear, as most studies rely on limited data of questionable generalizability. A careful study of the national database of surgery resident case logs is essential to better understand how early surgical specialization and fellowships will impact the future of general surgery education.

This is a structured review of the literature on the impact of advanced surgical fellowships on surgical resident education and training. Most studies rely on limited data of questionable generalizability; thus, the overall impact remains unclear. There is a need for more investigation.

*Department of Surgery, Inova Health System, Falls Church, VA

Department of Surgery, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Reprints: Timothy A. Plerhoples, MD, MPH, Department of Surgery, Inova Health System, 3300 Gallows Rd, Falls Church, VA 22042. E-mail

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.