Surgical procedures constitute an important part of every physician's daily practice. However, few studies have investigated the surgical skills of graduating medical students and, especially, factors that might be related to their degree of surgical competence. The present study sought to gather information on the basic surgical skills of graduating medical students and to establish whether factors influencing the students' competence could be identified and used to improve the teaching of basic surgical skills at medical schools.
A questionnaire was sent to all final-year medical students in Finland in 1997. It was returned by 404 (participation rate 80.2%) students. The questionnaire included questions on the theoretical knowledge and successful performance of 10 basic surgical procedures: abdominal paracentesis, application of Sengstake-Blakemoore tube, rubber-band ligation of hemorrhoids, reposition and casting of Colles' fracture, knee arthrocentesis, application of tibial traction, evacuation of subcutaneous abscess, male bladder catheterization, suprapubic catheterization, and nevus excision.
Over 90% of the final-year medical students knew the theory of performing reposition and casting of Colles' fracture, knee arthrocentesis, urinary tract catheterization, and nevus excision, but only 32% (124/393) knew the theory of applying the Sengstake-Blakemoore tube. Nevus excision had been successfully performed by over 90% of the students. Of the emergency or duty procedures, application of the Sengstake-Blakemoore tube and abdominal paracentesis had been successfully performed by 1% (4/393) and 8% (32/393) of the students, respectively, whereas Colles' fracture reposition and suprapubic catheterization had been successfully performed by 46% of the students (182/393 and 179/393, respectively). The age-adjusted odds ratios for performing Colles' fracture reposition (OR 1.59; 95% CI 1.01 to 2.50), application of tibial traction (2.00; 1.03 to 3.89), evacuation of subcutaneous abscess (2.13; 1.25 to 3.62), and suprapubic catheterization (2.23; 1.21 to 4.09) were significantly higher among males than females. Students with working experience had higher odds ratios for performing suprapubic catheterization (OR 6.75; 95% CI 1.99 to 22.84), nevus excision (5.69; 2.49 to 13.0), reposition and casting of Colles' fracture (1.72; 1.01 to 2.94), knee arthrocentesis (4.78; 2.67 to 8.53), and evacuation of subcutaneous abscess (12.9; 6.12 to 27.1) than students without such experience. Students who had done extracurricular research had significantly lower odds ratios for performing evacuation of subcutaneous abscess (0.58; 0.34 to 0.99) than students without such experience. When the five medical faculties in Finland were compared, the highest odds ratios for performing procedures were at the university in which a student logbook was systematically used.
Final-year medical students have fairly good theoretical knowledge of basic surgical procedures, but the successful performance rates of these procedures range from 1 to 90%. Males have performed surgical procedures significantly more often than females. Working experience clearly enhanced the surgical skills of medical students. However, research experience may impair the learning of these procedures. The systematic use of logbooks seems to be useful.