NYMC Faculty Publications

Lived Experiences of Surgical Residents During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Assessment

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Journal of Surgical Education

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OBJECTIVE: As the COVID-19 pandemic dynamically changes our society, it is important to consider how the pandemic has affected the training and wellness of surgical residents. Using a qualitative study of national focus groups with general surgery residents, we aim to identify common themes surrounding their personal, clinical, and educational experiences that could be used to inform practice and policy for future pandemics and disasters.

DESIGN: Six 90-minute focus groups were conducted by a trained qualitative researcher who elicited responses on six predetermined topics. De-identified transcripts and audio recordings were later analyzed by two independent researchers who organized responses to each topic into themes.

SETTING: Focus groups were conducted virtually and anonymously.

PARTICIPANTS: General surgery residents were recruited from across the country. Demographic information of potential participants was coded, and subjects were randomly selected to ensure a diverse group of participants.

RESULTS: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents' clinical, educational, and personal experiences varied depending on the institutional response of the program and the burden of COVID-19 cases geographically. Many successes were identified: the use of telehealth and virtual didactics, an increased sense of camaraderie amongst residents, and flexibility in scheduling. Many challenges were also identified: uncertainty at work regarding personal protective equipment and scheduling, decreased case volume and educational opportunities, and emotional trauma and burnout associated with the pandemic.

CONCLUSIONS: These data gathered from our qualitative study highlight a clear, urgent need for thoughtful institutional planning and policies for the remainder of this and future pandemics. Residency programs must ensure a balanced training program for surgical residents as they attempt to master the skills of their craft while also serving as employed health care providers in a pandemic. Furthermore, a focus on wellness, in addition to clinical competency and education, is vital to resident resilience and success in a pandemic setting.