Identification of knowledge gaps in neurosurgery using a validated self-assessment examination: Differences between general and spinal neurosurgeons

Jason Sheehan, Robert M. Starke, Nader Pouratian, Zachary Litvack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Objective: The practice of neurosurgery requires fundamental knowledge base. Residency training programs and continuing medical education courses are designed to teach relevant neurosurgical principles. Nevertheless, knowledge gaps exist for neurosurgeons and may be different between cohorts of neurosurgeons. The Self-Assessment in Neurological Surgery (SANS) General Examination and Spine Examination are online educational tools for lifelong learning and maintenance of certification. This study examines the gaps in knowledge of spinal neurosurgeons and general neurosurgeons taking SANS. Methods: From 2008 to 2010, a total of 165 spinal neurosurgeons completed the 243 available questions of the SANS Spine Examination. Over that same time frame, 993 general neurosurgeons completed the SANS General Spine Examination. Mean scores were calculated and assessed according to 18 major neurosurgical knowledge disciplines. Statistical analysis was carried out to evaluate for significant knowledge gaps among all users and significant differences in performance between spinal neurosurgeons and their general neurosurgeon counterparts. Results: The mean overall examination score was 87.4% ± 7.5% for spinal neurosurgeons and 71.5% ± 8.9% for general neurosurgeons (P < 0.001). Of the 18 major knowledge categories in SANS, spinal neurosurgeons (n = 165) answered questions incorrectly 15% or greater of the time in five of the categories. The categories of lower performance for spinal neurosurgeons were cerebrovascular, anesthesia and critical care, general clinical, tumor, and trauma. For general neurosurgeons (n = 993), the five knowledge categories with lowest performance were cerebrovascular, epilepsy, peripheral nerve, trauma, and radiosurgery. Although spinal neurosurgeons and general neurosurgeons shared some areas of decreased performance including trauma and cerebrovascular, spine neurosurgeons relatively underperformed in general clinical, anesthesia andcritical care, and tumor. Conclusions: The SANS Spine Examination demonstrated knowledge gaps in specific categories for spinal surgeons. The knowledge areas of diminished performance differed between spinal and general neurosurgeons. Identification of specific areas of deficiency could prove useful in the design and implementation of educational programs and maintenance of certification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E27-E31
JournalWorld neurosurgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Continuing Medical Education
  • Education
  • Knowledge gaps
  • Neurosurgery
  • Neurosurgical education
  • Spine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Identification of knowledge gaps in neurosurgery using a validated self-assessment examination: Differences between general and spinal neurosurgeons'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this