Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: Online question bank for med students and residents

I just finished evaluating a study aid for National Board of Medical Examiners shelf examinations. It’s called ExamGuru, an online question resource for the major specialty rotations encountered by a third-year medical student.

The surgery shelf exam has a total of 395 questions. You can create your own multiple-choice tests of any length, timed or not, and you can focus on the subsections of surgery you want to emphasize.

What makes this set of examinations unique is that you not only get the answer, you also can see whether the question is easy or difficult and how you compare to your peers who have answered the question previously.

Questions that are too hard or too easy are revised or replaced.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

How long is too long for robotic surgery?

A surgical chairman writes [some details were changed to obscure the surgeon’s identity]:

We currently have surgeons who are trying to establish themselves as experts in performing a certain robotic operation. As an open case, it rarely takes more than about 4-5 hours.

With the robot, it is generally taking around 6 hours as reported in the literature, and morbidity and mortality in expert hands appears to be pretty good.

What is happening in the real world is that surgeons are taking 12 or more hours to perform these operations robotically. I am aware of one death after a 14 hour procedure in another hospital. One case in my own institution took 16 hours, and luckily the patient did well. Of course this sort of data never gets reported publicly. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

A white coat is more than just a symbol

The raging controversy over whether doctors should wear white coats has been based on the theoretical problem of possibly infecting patients with organisms that can be cultured from white coats vs. the lack of an apparent benefit from wearing a white coat.

A 2012 paper by investigators from Northwestern University in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology sheds some new light on the latter issue.

Rather than summarizing the study myself, I will quote the excellent New York Times article about the three experiments that were done [emphasis added by me]:

In the first experiment, 58 undergraduates were randomly assigned to wear a white lab coat or street clothes. Then they were given a test for selective attention based on their ability to notice incongruities, as when the word “red” appears in the color green. Those who wore the white lab coats made about half as many errors on incongruent trials as those who wore regular clothes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Surgeons are burned out in, of all places, France

More than half of French gastrointestinal surgeons in training are burned out says a paper published ahead of print in the American Journal of Surgery.

Five hundred gastrointestinal surgery trainees were surveyed, and 65.6% responded. Of those responding, 52% had indications of burnout syndrome—emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of relationships, and lack of self-fulfillment at work—on the well-validated Maslach Burnout Inventory.

Other notable findings were 67% had insomnia, and 12% had thoughts of suicide.

On multivariate analysis, the significant factors associated with burnout syndrome included being confronted with aggression from patients, lack of gratitude from senior colleagues, trainees feeling they had too much responsibility, and not participating in extracurricular activities.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The prospects for switching to a different specialty

Could you comment on how an applicant switching into general surgery compares to one that applied directly from medical school would be viewed? I had a very difficult time choosing between specialties and have been regretting my decision not to apply into surgery. I am currently in a prelim year in medicine and am currently matched into radiology. I want to reenter the match process this year but am nervous to give up my guaranteed radiology position at a top program for an unknown where I can go unmatched or matched into an undesirable program. I graduated from a US med school. My USMLE Step 1 score was 235, Step 2 252, and I have published 2 articles in a surgical sub-specialty field.

You are what is known to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) as an "independent applicant" (graduate of a US med school going back into the match).

Go to the NRMP website, download the PDF "Main match results and data 2016" and look at Figure 6, you will find that 52.2% of independent applicants in general surgery failed to match compared to only 9.9% of US seniors.
This holds true for most specialties. Note that 43% of independent grads did not match in neurology.

Your USMLE scores are quite good, and the fact that you have published to articles will probably help a little. However, the reality is that you probably have about a 50-50 chance of matching in general surgery.

I wish I could explain why this is. All I know is it has been this way for years.

I can't tell you what to do. I suggest you give this some serious thought. It is probably not ethical for you to reenter the match and not tell your anesthesia program that you are doing so, but I suppose that is an option. If you don't match in general surgery, you would still have your anesthesia spot, but if you do match, you will leave your anesthesia program high and dry.

If you decide to apply to general surgery, you should go with mostly community hospital programs and send out lots of applications. By lots, I mean more than 50 or as many as you can afford.

You will be able to better assess your chances as you see how many interviews you are offered.

Good luck with your decision and please let me know how it turns out.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

OR head covering controversy: ACS vs. AORN

In early August, the American College of Surgeons (ACS) issued a statement on operating room attire. Much to my surprise and delight, it said this about headgear:

The skullcap is symbolic of the surgical profession. The skullcap can be worn when close to the totality of hair is covered by it and only a limited amount of hair on the nape of the neck or a modest sideburn remains uncovered. Like OR scrubs, cloth skullcaps should be cleaned and changed daily. Paper skull caps should be disposed of daily and following every dirty or contaminated case.

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) responded with a statement of its own:

Several types of evidence exist that support recommendations that perioperative personnel cover their head and ears in the OR. This evidence includes the fact that human skin and hair is naturally colonized with many bacteria, and perioperative personnel shed microorganisms into the air around them. We know airborne bacteria in the OR can fall into the operative field, contribute to the overall air contamination of the OR, and place patients at risk of surgical site infections. Completely covering the hair can reduce the number of bacteria introduced into OR air by perioperative personnel.

Unfortunately, the "evidence" cited by the AORN is all circumstantial. Yes, human hair and skin may be colonized with bacteria. There is no proof whatsoever that a single surgical patient has ever been infected by a hair or skin droppings from OR personnel. If you want to extend this logic to its inevitable conclusion, the entire neck and face should be covered too. Eyebrows and eyelashes could be deadly. Maybe all OR personnel, including circulating nurses and anesthesia, should wear helmets like those used by astronauts or deep-sea divers.

Some say it is impossible to do a study about this, but one of my Twitter followers came up with a perfectly reasonable suggestion. Simply have several teams of operating room personnel, some of whom are wearing bouffant caps and some wearing skullcaps, stand over an OR table. Instead of a patient, culture media could be placed in strategic locations. The OR teams should move about in scripted ways for an hour or two. Let's see whether there's any difference in the amount of bacteria grown in the cultures.

Perhaps the AORN should get its own house in order first. Many of the OR nurses and techs that I have worked with over the years wear their supposedly fully covering headgear like this:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Audition electives, applying to programs, and interviewing

By now most rising fourth-year medical students have chosen a specialty and are busy preparing residency applications. A paper from October of last year in Academic Medicine sheds some light on the process.

Researchers from Mass General and the University of Vermont surveyed 2884 fourth-year students from 20 US medical schools in 2014; 1367 (47.4%) responded—52% of them were female.

Just over half of the students applied to internal medicine, pediatrics, or surgery residencies.

While the average number of programs applied to was 36.4, those seeking surgery applied to a mean of 58.2 programs, significantly more (p < 0.001) than those applying to any other specialty.

Except for radiology, for which applicants averaged 16.9 interviews, all other specialties including surgery had a mean of about 12 interviews per applicant.

Of those who answered the survey, only 71 (5.2%) did not match in the specialty they wanted.