The chief resident (CR) year is a pivotal experience in surgical training. Changes in case volume and diversity may impact the educational quality of this important year.OBJECTIVE
To evaluate changes in operative experience for general surgery CRs.DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS
Review of Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education case logs from 1989-1990 through 2011-2012 divided into 5 periods. Graduates in period 3 were the last to train with unrestricted work hours; those in period 4 were part of a transition period and trained under both systems; and those in period 5 trained fully under the 80-hour work week. Diversity of cases was assessed based on Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education defined categories.MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES
Total cases and defined categories were evaluated for changes over time.RESULTS
The average total CR case numbers have fallen (271 in period 1 vs 242 in period 5, P < .001). Total CR cases dropped to their lowest following implementation of the 80-hour work week (236 cases), but rebounded in period 5. The percentage of residents' 5-year operative experience performed as CRs has decreased (30% in period 1 vs 25.6% in period 5, P < .001). Regarding case mix: thoracic, trauma, and vascular cases declined steadily, while alimentary and intra-abdominal operations increased. Recent graduates averaged 80 alimentary and 78 intra-abdominal procedures during their CR years. Compared with period 1, in which these 2 categories represented 47.1% of CR experience, in period 5, they represented 65.2% (P < .001). Endocrine experience has been relatively unchanged.CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE
Total CR cases declined especially acutely following implementation of the 80-hour work week but have since rebounded. Chief resident cases contribute less to overall experience, although this proportion stabilized before the 80-hour work week. Case mix has narrowed, with significant increases in alimentary and intra-abdominal cases. Broad-based general surgery training may be jeopardized by reduced case diversity. Chief resident cases are crucial in surgical training and educators should consider these findings as surgical training evolves.