The Effect of General Surgery Clerkship Rotation on the Attitude of Medical Students Towards General Surgery as a Future Career
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BACKGROUND: Literature suggests declining interest in General Surgery (GS) and other surgical specialties, with fewer Canadian medical residency applicants identifying a surgical specialty as their first choice. Although perceptions of surgical careers may begin before enrollment in clerkship, clerkship itself provides the most concentrated environment for perceptions to evolve. Most students develop perceptions about specialties during their clinical clerkships. This study examines the immediate impact of GS clerkship on student attitudes toward GS as a career, and on preferences towards GS compared with other specialties. METHODS: A pre-post design involved 61 McMaster clinical clerks. Two instruments were used to collect data from students over the course of clerkship (2008-2009). Paired comparison (PC) compared ranking of career choices before and after clerkship. Semantic differential (SD) measured attitudes toward GS and variables that may have affected attitudes before and after clerkship. Analyses used SPSS 16.0 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL). RESULTS: Clerks ranked preferences for GS changed substantially after clerkship, moving from the 10th to the 5th position compared with other specialties. Ranks of surgical subspecialties also changed, though GS demonstrated the largest improvement. SD results were consistent with PC, showing improved attitudes after rotation, with differences both statistically and practically significant (t = 3.81, p < 0.000, effect size = 0.23). Results indicated that attitudes toward all areas related to GS clerkship (attending physicians, surgical residents, ward nurses, scrub nurses, workload, knowledge achieved, technical skills acquired) improved significantly except attitude toward technical skills acquired. CONCLUSIONS: Clinical clerkship at McMaster was a positive experience and significantly enhanced preferences towards GS and attitudes towards GS as a career. Medical schools should foster positive interaction between clinical clerks and staff (including attending surgeons and nurses), ensure that teaching hospital staff provide a positive experience for clerks, and should provide opportunities to learn basic technical skills during GS clerkship.
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