Addressing the need for more surgeons

UF surgery department commits to help double College of Medicine grads entering general surgery residencies

Dr. Kevin E. Behrns, was appointed chairman of the department of surgery in July after serving as interim chair for a year. Behrns served as program director of UF’s general surgery residency training program for four years and has received numerous awards for his teaching excellence. Dr. Peter R. Nelson serves as a faculty adviser for UF’s surgical interest group. He recently completed a national video project aimed at encouraging medical students to enter the field of surgery.

Surgery remains one of the most exciting and dynamic fields in medicine today. Minimally invasive approaches to complex disease processes and superior outcomes compared to prior eras have placed surgery at the forefront in many areas of healthcare nationally and here at the University of Florida. Advances in specialties such as surgical oncology, robotic and laparoscopic surgery, endovascular surgery, transplantation and trauma offer endless exciting career opportunities for bright, dedicated students.

However, even given these incredible opportunities, the field of general surgery faces a shortage of professionals in the near future. In a 2008 issue of the journal Surgery, researchers from The Ohio State University wrote that there will be a shortage of 1,300 general surgeons in 2010 and that the shortage will worsen each decade, reaching a deficit of 6,000 by 2050. Currently, we also see some shortages in subspecialties such as pediatric and cardiovascular surgery. We, as a department, are addressing this need by challenging and committing ourselves to contribute to the doubling of the current number of UF College of Medicine graduates who enter general surgery residencies or surgical subspecialties. In addition, we will seek to increase the funding for surgery resident training positions since the state of Florida trains too few general surgeons for the population.

The evolution of more specialty specific residency and fellowship training paradigms has forced surgical leaders to ask medical students to make major career decisions far earlier during their education than was typical in the past. In addition, certain stereotypes or misconceptions about surgery often lead students away from surgery to other career paths. This has required surgeons to market the field to prospective candidates during their first years of medical school.

To educate medical students about the opportunities of a surgical career, the UF department of surgery has several programs underway to encourage students to learn more about surgery and to seriously consider the field as a career option. These programs include enhancements made to the third-year surgical clerkship curriculum, coordinated by clerkship director Dr. Juan Cendan. One such improvement has been the addition of small group learning sessions with one-on-one interaction between students and dedicated surgery faculty educators to cover all the basic tenets of general surgery in an interactive stress-free format. We have seen this initiative translate into significantly better performance on students’ oral and written exams at the end of the rotation.

The UF COM Surgical Interest Group has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years to become one of the most popular interest groups at UF. Monthly meetings of the SIG focus on topics ranging from changes in surgical education and training, women in surgery, new innovations in surgical subspecialties to how to structure fourth-year surgery electives and how to prepare for surgery residency applications and personal statements and interviews. The SIG hosts several combined sessions with other interest groups, including at least two suture and knot-tying clinics each year. Students also have the opportunity to shadow surgeons in the OR, participate in research projects and even test their skills with surgical simulators.

UF’s surgical recruitment efforts extend to the national level through the coordination of a video project supported by the Association for Academic Surgery, Society for University Surgeons, Association for Program Directors in Surgery, and the American College of Surgeons. The project, Surgery Redefined, which targets students and trainees, provides candid insight into all aspects of surgery and encourages earlier exposure to and interest in a surgical career. The video presentation includes a collection of short personal interviews with surgical leadership, academic and private practice surgeons, trainees and students. This presentation will be distributed broadly as a DVD in February 2010, as well as circulated on the Internet through the ACS Education Web Portal, YouTube, Facebook, and podcasts in spring 2010.

The UF-supported video focuses on exciting technological changes in the field, practice opportunities, gratification of surgeon and patient interaction, research opportunities, training opportunities, student mentorship and balance of work and family life.

Through these and other initiatives, our department has placed a priority on embracing medical students, educating them about surgery and encouraging more of them to consider a career in surgery. Once we have captured their attention, we are committed to training them within an integrated educational program and to practice using a multidisciplinary team approach that addresses the context of national and global changes in health care. We also are committed to training surgeon scientists, so that they remain lifelong learners who seek every opportunity to make laboratory findings and relate those discoveries to improving patient care.

If you are interested in learning more, contact the UF Surgical Interest Group faculty advisor, Dr. Peter Nelson (, or this year’s president, Amr El-Sergany (