The Effect of Residency and Fellowship Type on Hand Surgery Clinical Practice Patterns

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The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires accredited fellowship programs to exhibit proficiency in six broadly defined domains; however, core competencies specifically mandated for hand surgery training have yet to be established. Several studies have demonstrated significant disparities in exposure to essential skills and knowledge between orthopedic surgery– and plastic surgery–based hand surgery fellowship programs. To determine whether significant discrepancies also exist after fellowship between hand surgeons trained in orthopedic surgery and those trained in plastic surgery, clinical practice patterns were evaluated.


A 20-question survey was created and distributed electronically to American Society for Surgery of the Hand and American Association for Hand Surgery members. Responses were compared using descriptive statistics.


Nine hundred eighty-two hand surgeons (76 percent orthopedic and 24 percent plastic) responded, representing a 39 percent response rate. Most plastic surgery hand practices were academic-based (41 percent), whereas orthopedic practices were private (67 percent). More orthopedic hand surgeons worked in multipractitioner practices than plastic surgeons (54 percent versus 30 percent; p < 0.0001). Orthopedic hand surgeons performed a higher percentage of hand cases in their practice facilities (86 percent versus 71 percent; p < 0.0001). Plastic surgeons performed more congenital hand (56 percent versus 35 percent; p < 0.05) and digital replantation cases (53 percent versus 22 percent; p < 0.05) but treated significantly fewer open reduction and internal fixation distal radius fractures.


Orthopedic and plastic surgery hand surgeons differ significantly in their clinical practice patterns. Differences in clinical exposure during training are reflected in practice and persist over time. Referral patterns and practice situations are also contributors to ultimate practice patterns.

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