What embodies an effective surgical educator? A grounded theory analysis of resident opinion

Karen J. Dickinson, Barbara L. Bass, Kevin Y. Pei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Effective surgical education is key to resident professional and personal development. There is little literature defining or assessing effective surgical educators and no common definition of effectiveness in use. The opinion of surgical residents has never been qualitatively studied. Our aim was to determine what general surgery residents perceive as qualities of effective surgical educators. Methods: A qualitative and quantitative study of general surgery senior residents (postgraduate year [PGY]–4 and –5) at a single tertiary academic institution was performed. In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with all senior residents to determine the overall opinion of effective educators. Thematic analysis was performed using grounded theory. Participants completed a Likert-based survey to determine which qualities of an effective educator were (1) most critical and (2) had been most commonly encountered during training. Institutional review board approval was obtained. Results: Data saturation occurred after 13 interviews (7 PGY-4, 6 PGY-5). Interviewees described attitudes, behaviors, and cognitions essential for effective surgical educators. They described important attributes of the trainee–trainer relationship and learning environment. On quantitative analysis, excellent communication, promoting a positive learning climate, timely constructive feedback, and technical expertise were ranked as most critical. Residents most often encountered educators with excellent communication, who fostered a positive learning climate, with clinical and technical expertise, and who provided leadership or mentorship. Conclusion: General surgery residents believe effective educators recognize the importance of communication and a positive learning environment, are able to adapt to the learner or environment, have clinical and technical expertise, and form a bond with their learner. This framework can inform faculty development programs to improve surgical education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)730-736
Number of pages7
JournalSurgery (United States)
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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