OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to propose an evidence-based blueprint for training, assessment, and certification of operative performance for surgical trainees. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Operative skill is a critical aspect of surgical performance. High-quality assessment of operative skill therefore has profound implications for training, accreditation, certification, and the public trust of the profession. Current methods of operative skill assessment for surgeons rely heavily on global assessment strategies across a very broad domain of procedures. There is no mechanism to assure technical competence for individual procedures. The science and scalability of operative skill assessment has progressed significantly in recent decades, and can inform a much more meaningful strategy for competency-based assessment of operative skill than has been previously achieved. METHODS: The present article reviews the current status and science of operative skill assessment and proposes a template for competency-based assessment which could be used to update training, accreditation, and certification processes. The proposal is made in reference to general surgery but is more generally applicable to other procedural specialties. RESULTS: Streamlined, routine assessment of every procedure performed by surgical trainees is feasible and would enable a more competency-based educational paradigm. In light of the constraints imposed by both clinical volume and assessment bias, trainees should be expected to become proficient and be measured against a mastery learning standard only for the most important and highest-frequency procedures. For less frequently observed procedures, performance can be compared to a norm-referenced standard and, to provide an overall trajectory of performance, analyzed in aggregate. Key factors in implementing this approach are the number of evaluations, the number of raters, the timeliness of evaluation, and evaluation items. CONCLUSIONS: A competency-based operative skill assessment can be incorporated into surgical training, assessment, and certification. The time has come to develop a systematic approach to this issue as a means of demonstrating professional standards worthy of the public trust.
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