Teaching operative cardiac surgery in the era of increasing patient complexity: Can it still be done?

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Teaching the next generation operative cardiac surgery while maintaining the highest level of patient care is an ever-increasing challenge given the growing proportion of patients with multiple comorbidities, the loss of more straightforward cases to percutaneous interventions, and the pressure of public reporting. No study to date has compared the outcomes of similar cases performed entirely (“skin-to-skin”) by the resident with those performed entirely by the staff to confirm the safety of this practice.


A total of 100 consecutive cardiac cases performed skin-to-skin by the resident (group R) were matched by procedure 1:1 to nonconsecutive cases performed by a single attending surgeon (group A). Patients were excluded from the analysis if there was overlap in any portion of the procedure by the trainee or the attending.


Patients in group A were similar to those in group R with respect to age, gender, body mass index, American Society of Anesthesiologists classification, left ventricular ejection fraction, and diabetes mellitus. Mean operative times were longer in group R (4.6 vs 2.7 hours, P < .001), as were cardiopulmonary bypass times (96 vs 50 minutes, P < .001) and aortic crossclamp times (78 vs 39 minutes, P < .001). There were no significant differences in red blood cell transfusions, reexplorations, stroke, length of stay, or wound infections. There were no in-hospital or 30-day deaths.


Our data indicate that trainees can be educated in operative surgery under the current paradigm, despite longer operative times, without sacrificing outcome quality. It is reasonable to expect academic programs to continue providing trainees significant experience as primary operating surgeons.

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