War stories: A qualitative analysis of narrative teaching strategies in the operating room

Yue Yung Hu, Sarah E. Peyre*, Alexander F. Arriaga, Emilie M. Roth, Katherine A. Corso, Caprice C. Greenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


"War stories" are commonplace in surgical education, yet little is known about their purpose, construct, or use in the education of trainees. Ten complex operations were videotaped and audiotaped. Narrative stories were analyzed using grounded theory to identify emergent themes in both the types of stories being told and the teaching objectives they illustrated. Twenty-four stories were identified in 9 of the 10 cases (mean, 2.4/case). They were brief (mean, 58 seconds), illustrative of multiple teaching points (mean, 1.5/story), and appeared throughout the operations. Anchored in personal experience, these stories taught both clinical (eg, operative technique, decision making, error identification) and programmatic (eg, resource management, professionalism) topics. Narrative stories are used frequently and intuitively by physicians to emphasize a variety of intraoperative teaching points. They socialize trainees in the culture of surgery and may represent an underrecognized approach to teaching the core competencies. More understanding is needed to maximize their potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-68
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


  • Core competencies
  • Narrative teaching
  • Professionalism
  • Surgical culture
  • Surgical education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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