Surgeons: Like a Fine Wine

Do surgeons become better with experience? Is there a point where their level plateaus? A recent study sought to answer just these types of questions.

The study, published in Annals of Surgery, examined over one million surgical cases performed by nearly 18,000 surgeons in 14 countries. Results showed that patient outcomes do get better as surgeons gain more experience but only up to the point where the surgeon’s level of learning plateaus. This learning curve has been found to mature in somewhere from 25 to 750 cases, depending on the types of surgery and the individual physician.

This large review analyzed data from 57 different studies, looking at the number of years in practice and the amount of surgeries performed in many instances. Approximately 3% of the studies demonstrated a learning curve with some physicians, which varied by procedure. In 77% of the studies however, the authors noted several items which improved as the corresponding number of surgeries increased. These areas of improvement include:

  • Complication rates
  • Mortality rates
  • Stroke rates
  • Length of procedure time
  • Requirements for blood transfusions
  • Rates of recurrence

The authors of the study also suggested that “performance may deteriorate toward the end of a surgeon’s career.” And while they noted the deterioration can come with a significant detriment to patient outcomes, surgeons can help offset this by staying abreast of trends, data, and best practices within their field.


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