Why do residents leave general surgery? The hidden problem in today's programs

Thomas F. Dodson, Alexandra L B Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Objective: Much has been written and discussed about the reasons for reduced interest in surgery, but few institutions have chosen to examine the loss or attrition of general surgery residents from their own programs. In preparation for an upcoming Residency Review Committee analysis of our program, we took the opportunity to examine the reasons for attrition in our own institution. Design, setting, and participants: During the years 1990 to 2003, 120 categorical residents were admitted into our general surgery residency program. Residents who matched into preliminary positions or non-5-year categorical positions were not included in this study. During this period of time, 20 residents (9 female and 11 male) left the program for a variety of reasons. The folders of those 20 residents along with all of the correspondence pertaining to each resident were reviewed in detail. Results: Our overall attrition rate during this 13-year period of time was 20 of 120 residents or 17%. This is comparable with the often-quoted figure of approximately 20% attrition in other general surgery programs. The reasons for leaving could be divided into 4 categories: (1) lifestyle, (2) opportunity for early specialization, (3) asked to leave the program because of emotional or performance difficulties, or (4) decided to leave medicine entirely. The largest group was related to lifestyle issues and comprised 13 of the total of 20 residents who left the program. Of this group of 13, 3 went into plastic surgery, 4 went into anesthesiology, 2 went into radiology, and the remaining 4 went into public health, internal medicine, pathology, and emergency medicine. Seven of these 13 individuals were women. Two individuals entered residency with the goal of specializing in plastic surgery. They both left their 5-year categorical general surgery positions after the third year when they were offered the opportunity to enter three-year plastic surgery fellowship positions. The third category was composed of 4 individuals who were asked to leave the program during this 13-year period because of performance or emotional problems, with 3 of these 4 being men. Only 1 person left medicine entirely, and he is now the vice-president of a successful software company. Of the total of 20 residents who left our program, 9 (45%) were female. Given that there were 33 females in our program during the subject period of time, these 9 females represent an attrition rate of 27%. The 11 males who left during this period represent, however, an attrition rate of only 13%. Conclusions: Although much concern has been expressed over the declining numbers of medical students interested in surgery, loss of residents after matching in general surgery is an equally significant problem. In our program over a 13-year period, 20 out 120 residents, or 17% dropped out or were released. The attrition rate for females (27%) was approximately twice that of males (13%), with 7 out of 9 females (78%) leaving for lifestyle reasons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-131
Number of pages4
JournalCurrent surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Attrition
  • Gender
  • Resident education
  • Surgical residency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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