Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
Defining operative experience targets in surgical training_ A systematic review.pdf (476.04 kB)

Defining operative experience targets in surgical training: a systematic review

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-03-14, 17:17 authored by Conor Toale, Aisling O'Byrne, Marie MorrisMarie Morris, Dara KavanaghDara Kavanagh

Background: The surgical learning curve is an observable and measurable phenomenon. Operative experience targets are well established as a proxy measure for operative competence in surgical training across jurisdictions. The aim of this study was to critique the available evidence regarding the relationship between operative experience in surgical training and trainee competence.

Methods: A systematic review of the PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Cochrane library databases was conducted in accordance with the Preferred Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Articles were sought that defined the relationship between procedural volume in surgical training and trainee competence, proficiency, or mastery. The educational impact of included studies was evaluated using a modified Kirkpatrick model.

Results: Of 3,672 records identified on database searching, 30 papers were ultimately included. Fourteen studies defined operative experience thresholds using operative time as a surrogate measure of competence, whereas another 8 used trainer assessments of operative performance (Kirkpatrick level 3). A further 5 studies were able to determine the relationship between trainee case volumes and subsequent patient outcomes (Kirkpatrick level 4b).

Conclusion: Many studies have recorded competent trainee performance in key index procedures after reaching experience threshold numbers in excess of currently mandated targets across jurisdictions. The evidence relating current operative experience targets to patient outcomes across a range of surgical subspecialties of surgical subspecialties is lacking. This review supports a move toward criterion-based referencing of operative performance targets in surgical training.


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Published Citation

Toale C, O'Byrne A, Morris M, Kavanagh DO. Defining operative experience targets in surgical training: a systematic review. Surgery. 2022;172(5):1364-1372.

Publication Date

26 August 2022

PubMed ID



  • Surgical Affairs


Elsevier B.V.


  • Published Version (Version of Record)