Association of Acute Care Surgeon Experience with Emergency Surgery Patient Outcomes and Mortality

Kevin M. Schuster, Joshua P. Hazelton, Deviney Rattigan, Javier Martin Perez, Bishwajit Bhattacharya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Importance: Previous studies comparing emergency surgery outcomes with surgeon experience have been small or used administrative databases without controlling for patient physiology or operative complexity. Objective: To evaluate the association of acute care surgeon experience with patient morbidity and mortality after emergency surgical procedures. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study evaluated the association of surgeon experience with emergency surgery outcomes at 5 US academic level 1 trauma centers where the same surgeons provided emergency general surgical care. A total of 772 patients who presented with a traumatic injury and required an emergency surgical procedure or who presented with or developed a condition requiring an emergency general surgical intervention were operated on by 1 of 56 acute care surgeons. Surgeon groups were divided by experience of less than 6 years (early career), 6 to 10 years (early midcareer), 11 to 30 years (late midcareer), and 30 years or more (late career) from the end of training. Surgeons with less than 3 years of experience were also compared with the entire cohort. Hierarchical logistic regression models were constructed controlling for Emergency Surgery Score, case complexity, preoperative transfusion, and trauma or emergency general surgery. Data were collected from May 2015 to July 2017 and analyzed from February to May 2020. Main Outcomes and Measures: Mortality, complications, length of stay, blood loss, and unplanned return to the operating room. Results: Of 772 included patients, 469 (60.8%) were male, and the mean (SD) age was 50.1 (20.0) years. Of 772 operations, 618 were by surgeons with less than 10 years of experience. Early- and late-midcareer surgeons generally operated on older patients and patients with more septic shock, acute kidney failure, and higher Emergency Surgery Scores. Patient mortality, complications, postoperative transfusion, organ-space surgical site infection, and length of stay were similar between surgeon groups. Patients operated on by early-career surgeons had higher rates of unplanned return to the operating room compared with those operated on by early-midcareer surgeons (odds ratio [OR], 0.66; 95% CI, 0.40-1.09), late-midcareer surgeons (OR, 0.34; 95% CI, 0.13-0.90), and late-career surgeons (OR, 1.11; 95% CI, 0.45-2.75). Patients operated on by surgeons with less than 3 years of experience had similar mortality compared with the rest of the cohort (OR, 1.97; 95% CI, 0.85-4.57) but higher rates of complications (OR, 2.07; 95% CI, 1.05-4.07). Conclusions and Relevance: In this study, experienced surgeons generally operated on older patients with more septic shock and kidney failure without affecting risk-adjusted mortality. Increased complications and unplanned return to the operating room may improve with experience. Early-career surgeons' outcomes may be improved if they are supported while experience is garnered..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)472-478
Number of pages7
JournalJAMA Surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery


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