Surgeons’ Skills Improve with Age, Says New U.S. Study


A new study published in The BMJ written by researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles, suggests that surgeons’ skills get better with age and that there is no difference of skill between male and female surgeons.

The risk of patients dying a month after their operation fell with the increased age of the surgeon, believes Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa and his colleagues at the David Geffen School of Medicine. Their data shows that there was no considerable difference in mortality in cases of male of female surgeons. Tsugawa stated in an interview that:

“Patients treated by female surgeons in their 50s had the lowest mortality across all groups.”

After concluding their findings, Tsugawa and his colleagues admit that they don’t know yet what is the link between the age and the skill of a surgeon. We all know that skills get better after exercising and older surgeons could also lose their dexterity and could find it difficult to keep up with the evolving technology.

Analyzing Data from Over 892,200 Patients and 46,000 Surgeons

For their study, the researchers checked Medicare patients and the mortality after 30 days they had a major operation. The data looked into results from 2011 to 2014 and only checked for emergency interventions. That yielded the researchers a number of 892,200 patients that were operated by almost 46,000 surgeons.

The risk of dying within 30 days of the surgical intervention was 6.4%. Looking at the ages of the surgeons, the mortality rates of the patients were different:

Surgeons under age 40 got 6.6%, the ones in their 40s got 6.5%, the ones in their 50’s got 6.4% and the surgeons in their 60s and older had 6.3%.

At a small difference, the mortality risk of patients with female surgeons was an overall of 6.3%, versus the 6.5%.

Experience, Judgement or Just Very Difficult Cases

However, Tsugawa explained that the results don’t mean people should seek female surgeons in their 50s. Usually, they follow the recommendation of their physicians, family members, or the reputation of a surgeon is the one a patient looks for “in the real world,” added Tsugawa.

The current study focuses on making young surgeons better by recommending more training, education, and supervision.

Dr. Natalie Coburn of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, is the co-author of an editorial on the study and she explains that older surgeons could be better because of many other factors:

 “This is probably a result of experience and judgment and who they would (operate on versus) who they would select for conservative management.”

She also points out that “sometimes (the) surgeons who appear to have the worst outcomes are actually the best surgeons, they’re just taking on the hardest cases.”



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