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J Surg Educ. 2016 Nov - Dec;73(6):1004-1013. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2016.05.003. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

Medical Student Presyncope and Syncope in the Operating Room: A Mixed Methods Analysis.

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Division of Plastic Surgery, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Electronic address:
Division of Plastic Surgery, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.



Medical students often feel faint (presyncopal) in the operating room (OR). Despite mandatory surgical rotations in clerkship, there is little formal training and acclimatization to the operating suite in the first 2 years of medical school. This study aimed to assess presyncope and syncope in the OR in first, second, third, and fourth year medical students at a large Canadian academic center.


Following an extensive literature review, we developed a mixed methods survey de novo to assess medical students' experience in the OR and determine the frequency of presyncopal and syncopal events.


A total of 180 students (106 females, 59%), evenly distributed among all 4 years of medical school, responded to the survey (response rate 40%, n = 180/454). In total, 75 students (42%) had experienced presyncope, and 10 students (6%) had experienced syncope in the OR. Female medical students were more likely to experience both presyncope (p < 0.001) and syncope (p = 0.011) relative to their male colleagues. They were also more likely to report that these experiences had an effect on their attitude toward the OR (p < 0.001) and their career choice (p < 0.001). Half of respondents believed that the undergraduate medical preclerkship curriculum did not provide adequate exposure to the OR. Students consistently expressed the desire for more preclinical OR exposure and formal instruction concerning OR etiquette. Only 28% of students reported receiving information on how to avoid syncope, and their classmates were the number one source (59%) for this advice. The most commonly employed preventative measures were eating before the OR and staying well hydrated. Presyncope had a negative effect on attitudes toward the OR in 28% of students.


Although true loss of consciousness (syncope) among medical students in the OR is uncommon, presyncope is a highly prevalent phenomenon. It is most prevalent in female students, and may have a negative effect on overall student well-being. All students may benefit from normalization of this very common experience by staff surgeons or residents. Formal instruction regarding the common symptoms, triggers, and methods for preventing presyncope and syncope is an essential supplement to the current preclinical medical curriculum.


Interpersonal and Communication Skills; Practice-Based Learning and Improvement; medical student; operating room; presyncope; syncope

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