Appropriate, progressive trainee autonomy is critical for training competent plastic surgeons who are adequately prepared to enter independent practice. Evaluation and reporting of meaningful operative autonomy among trainees in plastic surgery are understudied.
Parallel survey instruments were developed using the Zwisch metric for progressive operative autonomy and distributed electronically to trainees and faculties in all accredited training programs. Trainees were queried about their operative autonomy in 17 core plastic surgery procedures, associated approach to logging cases, and perceived readiness to enter practice. Faculties provided assessment of their final-year trainees using the same metrics.
Trainees in 28 programs and faculties in 35 programs participated. Final-year trainees reported the most operative independence with breast tissue expander reconstruction and carpal tunnel release and the least with facelift and rhinoplasty. A mean of 40% of final-year trainees reached supervision only autonomy in the procedures queried; none achieved this with rhinoplasty. Faculties identified the highest final-year trainee operative autonomy with botulinum toxin injection and burn excision and grafting; the least trainee independence was reported with rhinoplasty, cleft lip repair, and facelift. Faculty perception of final-year trainee autonomy was higher than that of trainees for 82% of procedures queried.
Although plastic surgery trainees endorse gradual operative autonomy overall, a majority of final-year trainees do not perceive supervision only independence in the majority of core procedures queried. Faculties perceive higher trainee operative autonomy than trainees for most procedures. Discordant approaches to case logging were identified both among trainees and between trainees and faculties. Standardization may improve both progression and assessment of operative autonomy in plastic surgery training.