Thinking like an expert: surgical decision making as a cyclical process of being aware Academic Article uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Education researchers are studying the practices of high-stake professionals as they learn how to better train for flexibility under uncertainty. This study explores the "Reconciliation Cycle" as the core element of an intraoperative decision-making model of how experienced surgeons assess and respond to challenges. METHODS: We analyzed 32 semistructured interviews using constructivist grounded theory to develop a model of intraoperative decision making. Using constant comparison analysis, we built on this model with 9 follow-up interviews about the most challenging cases described in our dataset. RESULTS: The Reconciliation Cycle constituted an iterative process of "gaining" and "transforming information." The cyclical nature of surgeons' decision making suggested that transforming information requires a higher degree of awareness, not yet accounted by current conceptualizations of situation awareness. CONCLUSIONS: This study advances the notion of situation awareness in surgery. This characterization will support further investigations on how expert and nonexpert surgeons implement strategies to cope with unexpected events.


  • Cristancho, Sayra M
  • Apramian, Tavis
  • Vanstone, Meredith
  • Lingard, Lorelei
  • Ott, Michael
  • Forbes, Thomas
  • Novick, Richard

publication date

  • January 2016