The present and future use of physician extenders in general surgery training programs: one response to the 80-hour work week

Christopher Pezzi, Thomas Leibrandt, Sree Suryadevara, Janice K Heller, Donna Hurley-Martonik, John S Kukora
Journal of the American College of Surgeons 2009, 208 (4): 587-91

BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to assess the use of physician extenders (PEs) in general surgery residency programs.

STUDY DESIGN: We surveyed the program directors in surgery for the number of chief residents, PEs on general surgery services, PE duties, whether PEs were hired in response to Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education work-hour restrictions, plans to hire additional PEs, and program type. Data were analyzed using the Student's t-test; p values are two-tailed and considered significant if <0.05.

RESULTS: There were 163 programs (65%) that responded, (87 university, 70 nonuniversity, and 6 military programs), with a total of 689 graduating chief residents per year. One hundred sixty programs use 840 PEs (median, 3.5 PEs per program; mean, 5.3 PEs per program, 2 PEs per chief resident). One hundred twenty-seven programs (79%) use at least 1 PE (range 1 to 50 PEs); 93 programs (57%) hired 513 (61%) PEs in response to work-hour restrictions. Before 2003, the mean number of PEs per program was 2.0; after 2003, there were 5.3 per program (p=0.0001). Most common uses of PEs included taking histories and physicals (84%), seeing consults (58%), first-assisting (52%), and seeing patients in the emergency department (47%). Forty-seven of 162 (29%) programs plan to hire more PEs in the next 3 years, 76 programs (47%) would like to, but are unsure of funding; 23 programs (14%) are not planning to increase the total, and 16 programs (10%) are unsure. With available funding, 431 additional PEs may be hired in the next 3 years, for a total of 1,271 PEs in 163 programs, or an average of 7.8 PEs per program and 1.8 PEs per chief resident.

CONCLUSIONS: PEs have been hired in large numbers to assist on general surgery teaching services, with most hired in response to Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education work-hour restrictions, and most of their duties are intended to aid resident education. Almost 80% of programs currently use PEs; 76% would like to hire more. Currently 1.2 PEs are used per graduating chief resident; this could increase to 1.8 PEs per chief resident in the next 3 years.

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