Attrition rates in integrated vascular and cardiothoracic surgery residency and fellowship programs

Huiting Chen, Rishi M. Reddy, Sarah W. Palmer, Dawn M. Coleman, John R. Hoch, Paul D. DiMusto, John E Rectenwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Attrition in surgical programs remains a significant problem resulting in trainee dissatisfaction and wasted time and educational dollars. Attrition rates in general surgery training programs approximate 5% per year (30% cumulative). Attrition rates in cardiovascular surgery training for the traditional vascular surgery fellowship (VSF), the vascular surgery residency (VSR), and the corresponding programs in cardiothoracic surgery have yet to be described, although they are assumed to be similar to those associated with general surgery training. Methods: A retrospective review of the Association of American Medical Colleges Annual Physician Specialty Data Book was performed. Data from consecutive academic years 2007-2008 to 2013-2014 were analyzed. The number of total residents, the number who did not complete their training, and those who successfully completed the program were recorded. Attrition rates were then calculated for VSF, VSR, general surgery residency (GSR), cardiothoracic surgery fellowship (CTF), and cardiothoracic surgery integrated residency (CTR). Results: Annually, between 2007-2008 and 2013-2014, there were zero to two vascular surgery residents who failed to complete the program (0%-5.9%). In the last 4 years of the study, whereas the absolute number of residents who failed to complete the program remained constant at 1 or 2 per year, the attrition rate decreased to 1 of 171 trainees (0.6%) in 2013-2014 as the total number of programs (and numbers of vascular surgery residents) significantly increased. During the same 7-year period, the number of vascular surgery fellows who did not complete their training ranged from one to six annually (0.4%-2.5%). Compared with the VSF, the VSR data show a relatively low and constant rate of attrition. In contrast, the number of general surgery residents who did not complete their program during the study period varied from 255 to 388 residents annually (3.3%-5.2%). During its first 3 years of inception, the CTR program had an attrition rate of 0%, and it was not until 2012-2013 that trainees failed to complete the program, resulting in an annual attrition rate of 1.2% to 3.2% from that point on. The annual attrition rate of CTF training programs ranged from 7 to 15 fellows (2.9%-6.8%) during the study period. Conclusions: The inception of VSR and CTR programs dramatically changed the paradigms for training in these highly specialized surgical fields. Comparisons of attrition rates between these two programs and the traditional VSF and CTR as well as GSR suggests lesser rates of attrition in the integrated programs. These data may prove reassuring to VSR and CTR program directors, whose significantly smaller programs are more vulnerable to the loss of even a single trainee than general surgery training programs are. In addition, the VSF program has stable and lower attrition rates compared with the CTF and GSR programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-241
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Attrition rates
  • Education
  • Training programs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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