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J Surg Educ. 2017 Nov - Dec;74(6):992-1000. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2017.03.008. Epub 2017 Apr 12.

How Surgeons Conceptualize Talent: A Qualitative Study Using Sport Science as a Lens.

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Centre for Health Sciences Education, Faculty of Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark. Electronic address:
Centre for Health Sciences Education, Faculty of Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Centre for Education Research & Innovation, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, London, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus N, Denmark.



Debates prevail regarding the definition of surgical talent, and how individuals with the potential to become talented surgeons can be identified and developed. However, over the past 30 years, talent has been studied extensively in other domains. The objectives of this study is to explore notions of talent in surgery and sport in order to investigate if the field of surgical education can benefit from expanding its view on talented performances. Therefore, this study aims to use the sport literature as a lens when exploring how surgeons conceptualize and define talent.


Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of 11 consultant surgeons from multiple specialties. We used constructivist grounded theory principles to explore talent in surgery. Ongoing data analysis refined the theoretical framework and iteratively informed data collection. Themes were identified iteratively using constant comparison.


The setting included 8 separate hospitals across Canada and Denmark.


A total of 11 consultant surgeons from 6 different surgical subspecialties (urology, orthopedic surgery, colorectal surgery, general surgery, vascular surgery, head & neck surgery) were included.


We identified three key elements for conceptualizing surgical talent: (1) Individual skills makes the surgical prospect "good", (2) a mixture of skills gives the surgical prospect the potential to become talented, and (3) becoming talented may rely on the fit between person and environment.


We embarked on a study aimed at understanding talent in surgery. Talent is a difficult construct to agree on. Whether in medicine or sports, debates about talent will continue to persist, as we all perceive talent differently. While we heard different opinions, three key ideas summarize our participants' discussions regarding surgical talent. These findings resonate with the holistic ecological approach from sport science and hence highlight the limits of a reductionist approach while favoring the individual-environment system as the minimal ontology for describing talented performances.


Interpersonal and Communication Skills; Medical Knowledge; Practice-Based Learning and Improvement; competency-based education; epistemology; interpersonal and communication skills; surgical education; technical skills

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