Distance learning improves attainment of professional milestones in the early years of surgical training

Paula J W Smith, Stephen J Wigmore, Anna Paisley, Peter Lamb, Jennifer M J Richards, Andrew J Robson, Erica Revie, Dermot McKeown, David Dewhurst, O James Garden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

OBJECTIVES: To assess the impact of a surgical sciences e-learning programme in supporting the academic development of surgical trainees during their preparation for professional examination.

BACKGROUND: In 2007, a 3-year online part-time Master of Surgical Sciences (MSc) degree programme was launched, utilizing an innovative platform with virtual case scenarios based on common surgical conditions addressed by the curriculum relating to the Membership Examination of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons (MRCS). Multiple-choice questions with feedback and discussion boards facilitated by expert clinical tutors provided formative assessment. Summative assessment comprised written examination at the end of each of the first 2 years (equivalent to MRCS level), culminating in submission of a research dissertation in year 3 toward an MSc.

METHODS: Students' age, gender, and level at entry to the programme were documented. Anonymized student feedback from 2008 to 2012 was examined using online questionnaires, and performance in the MSc programme was compared to MRCS examination outcomes for students who had consented to release of their results.

RESULTS: A total of 517 surgical trainees from 40 countries were recruited over the 6-year period, and 116 MSc students have graduated to date. Of 368 students, 279 (76%) were foundation doctors (interns) and had not commenced formal surgical training on enrolling in the MSc programme. However, level at entry did not influence performance (P > 0.05 across all 3 years). Average pass rates since the programme launched, for those students completing all of the required assessments, were 84% ± 11% in year 1, 85% ± 10% in year 2, and 88% ± 7% in year 3 of the MSc programme. MSc students had significantly higher MRCS pass rates than nonenrolled trainees (67% vs 51%, P < 0.01, n = 352). There was a significant correlation between MRCS examination performance and overall performance in the MSc (R = 58%; P < 0.01, n = 37). Of 248 respondents, 202 (81%) considered that the MSc would improve their chances of gaining a surgical training post, and 224 (90%) would recommend the programme to their peers.

CONCLUSIONS: The online MSc programme supports academic development of trainees in the early years of surgical training, is well received by students, and is associated with improved success in their professional examination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)838-43
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Surgery
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


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