There has been a considerable rise in the number of musculoskeletal/orthopaedic oncology fellowships and subsequently, orthopaedic oncologists, in the nation. National societies have been concerned that the increasing number of orthopaedic oncologists, coupled with a limited number of patients with bone and soft-tissue sarcomas in the country, may have led to an unintended impact on the training spectrum and/or exposure of orthopaedic oncology fellows-in-training over time. Fellows who are unable to gain exposure by operating on varied cancer presentations during training may be less confident in dealing with a wide array of patients in their practice. Despite these concerns, the volume and variability of procedures performed by fellows-in-training remains unknown. Understanding these parameters will be helpful in establishing policies for standardizing training of prospective fellows to ensure they are well-equipped to care for patients with bone and/or soft-tissue sarcomas in the beginning of their career.
(1) Has the median surgical procedure volume per fellow changed over time? (2) How much variability in procedural volume exists between fellows, based on the most recent (2017) Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) procedure log data? (3) What proportion of fellows are meeting the minimum procedure volume thresholds, as recommended by the Musculoskeletal Tumor Society (MSTS)?
The 2010 to 2017 ACGME fellowship procedure logs for musculoskeletal oncology fellowships were retrieved from the council’s official website. All fellows enrolled in ACGME-accredited fellowships are mandated to complete case logs before graduation. This study did not include operative procedures performed by fellows in nonACGME-approved fellowship programs. The 2010 to 2016 anatomic site-based procedure log data were used to evaluate fellows’ overall and location-specific median operative or patient volume, using descriptive statistics. Linear regression analyses were used to assess changes in the median procedure volume over time. The 2017 categorized procedure log data were used to assess variability in procedure volume between the lowest (10th percentile) and highest (90th percentile) of all fellows. Using 2017 procedure logs, we compared the minimum procedure volume standards, as defined by the MSTS, against the number of procedures performed by fellows across the 10th, 30th, 50th (median), 70th, and 90th percentiles.
There was no change in the median (range) procedural volume per fellow from 2010 (292 procedures [131 to 634]) to 2017 (312 procedures [174 to 479]; p = 0.58). Based on 2017 categorized procedure log data, there was considerable variability in procedural volume between the lowest (10th) percentile and highest (90th) percentile of fellows across programs: pediatric oncologic procedures (10-fold difference), surgical management of complications from limb-salvage surgery (sevenfold difference), soft-tissue resections or reconstructions (fourfold difference), bone sarcoma resections or limb-salvage surgery (fourfold difference), and spine, sacrum, and pelvis procedures (threefold difference). A fair proportion of fellows did not meet the minimum procedure volume standards, as recommended by the MSTS across certain categories. For the spine and pelvis (minimum = 10 procedures), fellows in the lowest 10th percentile performed only six procedures. For patients with bone sarcomas or limb salvage (minimum = 20 procedures), fellows in the lowest 10th percentile performed only 14 procedures. For pediatric patients with oncologic conditions (minimum = 15 procedures), fellows in the 50th percentile (13 procedures) and below failed to meet the thresholds. For surgical management of complications from limb-salvage procedures (minimum = five procedures), fellows in the lowest 10th percentile performed only three procedures.
Although we were encouraged to observe that the median number of procedures performed by musculoskeletal oncology fellows over this time has not changed, we observed wide variability in the procedure volume among fellows for pediatric sarcomas, soft-tissue resection and reconstruction, limb salvage procedures, and spine procedures. We do not know how this compares with fellows trained in nonaccredited fellowship programs.
Although we recognize that the education of fellows entails much more than performing operations, national societies have recognized a need to bring about more uniformity or standardization of training in musculoskeletal oncology. Limiting the number of orthopaedic oncology fellowships to high-volume institutions, expanding the training time period, and/or introducing subspecialty certification may be possible avenues through which standardization of training can be defined.