A Nationwide Curriculum Analysis of Integrated Plastic Surgery Training: Is Training Standardized?

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Background:The integrated model of plastic surgery education, shortly to become the standard for all 6-year programs, has set minimal but no maximal exposure to plastic surgery. The authors hypothesized that the first 3 years of integrated training will show variability among residency programs.Methods:Rotation schedules for all 42 integrated programs were analyzed for plastic surgery versus 18 nonplastic surgery rotations for postgraduate years 1, 2, and 3 as well as cumulatively for the first 3 years. Rotations “strongly suggested” by the Residency Review Committee on Plastic Surgery and American Board of Plastic Surgery were also examined.Results:Postgraduate years 1 through 3 spent a wide range of 3 to 19 months (SD ± 4.9 months) on plastic surgery (mean, 9.1 months). General surgery also varied dramatically, with 8 to 21 months (SD ± 4.0 months) of exposure (mean, 16.3 months). Surgical subspecialty rotations ranged substantially from 1 to 6 months (SD ± 1.0 months). Plastic surgery exposure was greater in programs based within plastic surgery departments than within divisions (13.8 versus 8.3 months, p < 0.005). Eighteen programs (42.9 percent) had dedicated hand surgery rotations, while seven (16.7 percent) had time dedicated for research. There was also wide variability in the inclusion of 18 nonplastic surgery rotations as well as specific “strongly suggested” rotations.Conclusions:The plastic surgery experience in the first 3 years of residency training varies by a greater than 6-fold difference among integrated programs. This was also found in the 2.5-fold and 6-fold differences in general surgery and subspecialty surgery experiences. Since standardized residency training is an expectation by both accrediting bodies and the public, this variability may warrant closer attention.

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