Trainees in congenital cardiac surgery fellowship programs are doing more operations since the programs became accredited in 2007, but no clear parameters have emerged to determine if certification has improved the quality of training, according to an evaluation of fellowship training programs published in the June issue of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery ( 2016 Jun;151:1488-95 ).

Overall, the training has become standardized, the fellows’ operative experience is “robust,” and fellows are mostly satisfied since the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) recognized congenital cardiac surgery as a fellowship in 2007, lead study author Dr. Brian Kogon of Emory University, Atlanta, said.

However, Dr. Kogon and his colleagues also found some shortcomings in fellowship training. They received survey responses from 36 of 44 fellows in 12 accredited programs nationwide. To determine if fellows were meeting minimum case requirements, they also reviewed operative logs of 38 of the 44 fellows. They compared their findings to a study of congenital cardiac surgery fellowship programs they did pre-ACGME accreditation ( J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2006 Dec;132:1280 ). “The number of operations performed by the fellows during their training was underwhelming, and most of the fellows were dissatisfied with their operative experience,” Dr. Kogon and his colleagues wrote in the earlier study.

The study found that all fellows achieved the minimum number of 75 total cases the standards require for graduation, with a median of 136; and the minimum standard of 36 specific qualifying cases with a median of 63. However, seven did not meet the minimum of five complex neonate cases. Among other types of operations for which fellows failed to meet the minimum cases were atrioventricular septal defect repair, arch reconstruction including coarctation procedures and systemic-to-pulmonary artery shunt procedures.

The comparative lack of adult cardiac surgery operations was also considered a potential problem, the authors noted, pointing out that “the number of adults who have congenital heart disease now exceeds the number of children who have the disease, and many of these patients will require an operation.”

Another shortcoming the study found was a drop-off in international fellowships since 2007. “This change places us at risk of becoming intellectually isolated and losing international relationships that are critical to the future of our specialty,” Dr. Kogon and his colleagues wrote. Graduated fellows also acknowledged dissatisfaction with their lack of exposure to neonate surgery.

The study also determined the following demographics of the fellows: 83% are men and the median age at graduation was 40 years, with a range of 35-48 years. Only 25% of graduates participated in nonsurgical rotations such as cardiac catheterization and echocardiography.

“Although the operative experience seems to be much more robust, and this finding has been corroborated in other surgical disciplines after the advent of ACGME accreditation, comparing training before and after the accreditation process came into existence is difficult,” Dr. Kogon and his colleagues said.

The study also noted that the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association developed a congenital curriculum for congenital cardiothoracic surgery fellows, but only 28% used that curriculum and only 61% used any formal curriculum. “Unfortunately, regardless of the curriculum, only 50% of the graduates found it helpful,” Dr. Kogon and his colleagues said.

And regardless of the curriculum, only half of the graduates have passed the written qualifying and oral certifying examinations after completing their fellowship. “Although the curriculum is quite robust, the latter statistic suggests that we need either more emphasis on education by the program directors or a better and/or different curriculum,” Dr. Kogon and his colleagues said. However, they added that “after training, former fellows have adequate case volumes and mixes and seem to be thriving in the field.”

Dr. Kogon and his study coauthors had no financial disclosures.


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