A new study published in JAMA Surgery finds that almost 20% of general surgery residents quit their programs. The article reviewed 22 studies of general surgery residencies involving over 19,000 residents. They found that a quarter of female surgery residents leave versus about 15% of men. Of all the people who pull out, almost half of them leave after their intern year. Another 28% give up after their second year.
Where do these young doctors go after dropping out? Only a fifth of them choose a different general surgery program. The rest switched to a different specialty, the most popular being, surprise!, anesthesiology.
The most popular reason given for abandoning surgery residency is lifestyle issues. This was followed by the desire to go into a different specialty. Other excuses mentioned included financial hardship, poor performance or dismissal, and family needs.
The lead author of the study suggested that the solution is to expose medical students to an even longer surgery rotation. He thinks another six to eight weeks of surgery experience would help students realize if they are fit for general surgery. In a back handed slap at all the residents who leave for a more humane field, he stated that "Not everybody can be a commander or a Navy SEAL." Ouch.
Long time readers of this blog know that I too started my training in general surgery. Unlike most of the residents in this study though, I was too stubborn to quit after my first two years. I toiled on for four years before finally deciding that life is too short to live so unhappily. Now I think that was the best decision I ever made in my life. You don't appreciate how wonder anesthesiology is until you've been through the hell of general surgery and lived to tell about it.