Plastic surgery training has traditionally been modeled as an “apprenticeship,” where faculty teach surgical skills to residents on live patients. Although this is a well-established process, the demand by the public and healthcare agencies for improved patient care, outcomes, and patient safety has led to the development of adjunct methods of teaching. The goal of this project is to assess the effectiveness of a web-based microsurgical curriculum.
We developed an interactive Web site to teach essential microsurgical competencies. Residents were randomly divided into 2 cohorts: one experimental group completed this online resource and the other control group did not. Pre- and postassessments were administered, consisting of a written test and a recorded microsurgery skills session.
A total of 17 plastic surgery residents of various training levels participated in the study. Residents who completed the web-based curriculum showed dramatic improvement in their knowledge and skills, with a 17-percentage point increase in their test scores (P = 0.01) compared with controls (P = 0.80). The experimental group was more likely to perform microanastomoses faster with an average of 4.5-minute improvement compared with 1.25-minute change among the control group. Residents performed self-assessments, and those who rated themselves as “very confident” had higher overall test scores (85% test score vs. 59%, P = 0.004), as well as shorter times to complete the microsurgical task (7.5 minutes vs. 13.6 minutes, P = 0.007). Overall, 62% of residents rated the online webpage as extremely valuable. The majority of residents reported the webpage improved their knowledge and markedly improved their microsurgical technique, which was confirmed by faculty experts.
Our interactive Web-based curriculum is a novel resource, teaching microsurgery in an organized, competency-based manner, which we believe is the first Web site of this nature. An individualized, self-paced Web site is ideal for plastic surgery trainees of all levels. Overall, the widespread implementation of our proposed curriculum—online self-directed training combined with regular practice sessions—will establish a strong foundation of microsurgery knowledge and skills acquisition for all plastic surgery residents.