The challenging nature of neurosurgical residency necessitates that appropriate measures are taken by training programs to ensure that residents are properly progressing through their education. Residents who display a pattern of performance deficiencies must be identified and promptly addressed by faculty and program directors to ensure that resident training and patient care are not affected. While studies have been conducted to characterize these so-called “problem residents” in other specialties, no current data regarding the prevalence and management of such residents in neurosurgery exist. The purpose of this study was to determine the rate and the outcome of problem residents in US neurosurgical residency programs and identify predictive risk factors that portend a resident’s departure from the program.
An anonymous nationwide survey was sent to all 108 neurosurgical training programs in the US to assess a 20-year history of overall attrition as well as the management course of problem residents, including the specific deficiencies of the resident, management strategies used by faculty, and the eventual outcome of each resident’s training.
Responses were received from 36 centers covering a total of 1573 residents, with the programs providing a mean 17.4 years’ worth of data (95% CI 15.3–19.4 years). The mean prevalence of problem residents among training programs was 18.1% (95% CI 14.7%–21.6%). The most common deficiencies recognized by program directors were poor communication skills (59.9%), inefficiency in tasks (40.1%), and poor fund of medical knowledge (39.1%). The most common forms of program intervention were additional meetings to provide detailed feedback (93.9%), verbal warnings (78.7%), and formal written remediation plans (61.4%). Of the identified problem residents whose training status is known, 50% graduated or are on track to graduate, while the remaining 50% ultimately left their residency program for other endeavors. Of the 97 residents who departed their programs, 65% left voluntarily (most commonly for another specialty), and 35% were terminated (often ultimately training in another neurosurgery program). On multivariable logistic regression analysis, the following 3 factors were independently associated with departure of a problem resident from their residency program: dishonesty (OR 3.23, 95% CI 1.67–6.253), poor fund of medical knowledge (OR 2.54, 95% CI 1.47–4.40), and poor technical skill (OR 2.37, 95% CI 1.37–4.12).
The authors’ findings represent the first study to characterize the nature of problem residents within neurosurgery. Identification of predictive risk factors, such as dishonesty, poor medical knowledge, and/or technical skill, may enable program directors to preemptively act and address such deficiencies in residents before departure from the program occurs. As half of the problem residents departed their programs, there remains an unmet need for further research regarding effective remediation strategies.