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Does the Surgical Assistant Influence Perioperative Outcomes Surrounding Cubital Tunnel Surgery?

Background: Ulnar neuropathy at the elbow is the second most common upper extremity compressive neuropathy and surgical treatment often involves surgical trainee involvement. The primary aim of this study is to determine the effect of trainees and surgical assistants on outcomes surrounding cubital tunnel surgery. Methods: This retrospective study included 274 patients with cubital tunnel syndrome who underwent primary cubital tunnel surgery at two academic medical centres between 1 June 2015 and 1 March 2020. The patients were divided into four main cohorts based on primary surgical assistant: physician associates (PA, n = 38), orthopaedic or plastic surgery residents ( n = 91), hand surgery fellows ( n = 132), or both residents and fellows ( n = 13). Exclusion criteria included patient age <18 years, revision surgery as the index procedure, prior traumatic ulnar nerve injury and concurrent procedures not related to cubital tunnel surgery. Demographics, clinical variables and perioperative findings were collected through chart reviews. Univariate and bivariate analyses were performed, and p < 0.05 was considered significant. Results: Patients in all cohorts had similar demographic and clinical characteristics. There was a significantly higher rate of subcutaneous transposition in the PA cohort (39.5% PA vs. 13.2% Resident vs. 19.7% Fellow vs. 15.4% Resident + Fellow). Presence of surgical assistants and trainees had no association with length of surgery, complications and reoperation rates. Although male sex and ulnar nerve transposition were associated with longer operative times, no explanatory variables were associated with complications or reoperation rates. Conclusions: Surgical trainee involvement in cubital tunnel surgery is safe and has no effect on operative time, complications or reoperation rates. Understanding the role of trainees and measuring the effect of graduated responsibility in surgery is important for medical training and safe patient care. Level of Evidence: Level III (Therapeutic).

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