Master surgeons' operative teaching philosophies: A qualitative analysis of parallels to learning theory

Luise I.M. Pernar, Stanley W. Ashley, Douglas S. Smink, Michael J. Zinner, Sarah E. Peyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: Practicing within the Halstedian model of surgical education, academic surgeons serve dual roles as physicians to their patients and educators of their trainees. Despite this significant responsibility, few surgeons receive formal training in educational theory to inform their practice. The goal of this work was to gain an understanding of how master surgeons approach teaching uncommon and highly complex operations and to determine the educational constructs that frame their teaching philosophies and approaches. DESIGN: Individuals included in the study were queried using electronically distributed open-ended, structured surveys. Responses to the surveys were analyzed and grouped using grounded theory and were examined for parallels to concepts of learning theory. SETTING: Academic teaching hospital. PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-two individuals identified as master surgeons. RESULTS: Twenty-one (95.5%) individuals responded to the survey. Two primary thematic clusters were identified: global approach to teaching (90.5% of respondents) and approach to intraoperative teaching (76.2%). Many of the emergent themes paralleled principles of transfer learning theory outlined in the psychology and education literature. Key elements included: conferring graduated responsibility (57.1%), encouraging development of a mental set (47.6%), fostering or expecting deliberate practice (42.9%), deconstructing complex tasks (38.1%), vertical transfer of information (33.3%), and identifying general principles to structure knowledge (9.5%). CONCLUSIONS: Master surgeons employ many of the principles of learning theory when teaching uncommon and highly complex operations. The findings may hold significant implications for faculty development in surgical education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)493-498
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of surgical education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012


  • Teaching
  • faculty development
  • intraoperative
  • learning theory
  • residents
  • surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Master surgeons' operative teaching philosophies: A qualitative analysis of parallels to learning theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this