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J Surg Educ. 2013 Jul-Aug;70(4):495-501. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2013.02.011.

Quantifying factors influencing operating theater teaching, participation, and learning opportunities for medical students in surgery.

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Department of Urology, Royal Derby Hospital, Derby, UK.



Operating room experience offers a unique learning resource, potentially exposing medical students to surgical disease and treatments, use of anesthesia, basic science, team working, and communication skills. However, the alien nature of this environment to newcomers poses particular difficulties in harnessing this resource. This study aimed to assess the operating theater-based teaching and learning experiences of new medical graduates during their medical school course.


A 41-item, self-administered questionnaire survey was distributed to newly qualified medical school graduates from 1 university consisting of 5 separate teaching hospitals. Results were analyzed using GraphPad Prism 5.0.


Questionnaires were returned by 209 of 312 graduates (67%). Overall, 121 (59%) respondents attended ≤50% of opportunities available to attend operating theater; 47% felt they knew what was expected of them when attending and only 13% had specific learning objectives set. An interest in pursuing a surgical career was stated by 24 (12%) respondents; this group was more likely to have attended ≥50% of operating theater opportunities (p = 0.0064). Those not intending to pursue a surgical career were more likely to have been discouraged by their experiences (p = 0.0001). Active participation while scrubbed, knowing what was expected, being made to feel welcome, and being set learning objectives were all significantly positively correlated with attendance. Although female respondents felt equally welcome, in comparison with their male colleagues, they were more likely to receive negative comments (p = 0.0106). The majority of respondents (80%) stated that attendance at operating theater sessions should be a mandatory component of the curriculum.


Although operating theater attendance is recognized as an important component of the medical school curriculum, overall attendance at sessions was low. Attendance could be increased by ensuring students knowing what is expected of them, making them feel welcome, setting learning objectives, and allowed them to actively participate. These results highlight the need to ensure that the time spent by medical students in the operating room is positive and maximized to its full potential through structured learning involving all members of the theater team.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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