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Ann Thorac Surg. 2017 Sep;104(3):1062-1068. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2017.05.034. Epub 2017 Jul 29.

Resident Autonomy in the Operating Room: Expectations Versus Reality.

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Division of Thoracic Surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois. Electronic address:
Division of Thoracic Surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.
Department of Surgery/Cardiothoracic, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.
Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.



There is concern about graduating thoracic trainees' independent operative skills due to limited autonomy in training. This study compared faculty and trainee expected levels of autonomy with intraoperative measurements of autonomy for common cardiothoracic operations.


Participants underwent frame-of-reference training on the 4-point Zwisch scale of operative autonomy (show and tell → active help → passive help → supervision only) and evaluated autonomy in actual cases using the Zwisch Me!! mobile application. A separate "expected autonomy" survey elicited faculty and resident perceptions of how much autonomy a resident should have for six common operations: decortication, wedge resection, thoracoscopic lobectomy, coronary artery bypass grafting, aortic valve replacement, and mitral valve repair.


Thirty-three trainees from 7 institutions submitted evaluations of 596 cases over 18 months (March 2015 to September 2016). Thirty attendings subsequently provided their evaluation of 476 of those cases (79.9% response rate). Expected autonomy surveys were completed by 21 attendings and 19 trainees from 5 institutions. The six operations included in the survey constituted 47% (226 of 476) of the cases evaluated. Trainee and attending expectations did not differ significantly for senior trainees. Both groups expected significantly higher levels of autonomy than observed in the operating room for all six types of cases.


Although faculty and trainees both expect similar levels of autonomy in the operating room, real-time measurements of autonomy show a gap between expectations and reality. Decreasing this gap will require a concerted effort by both faculty and residents to focus on the development of independent operative skills.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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