Background: There has been on-going debate and public interest in surgical competence in recent years. Methods: A Delphi reiterative opinion survey was conducted among master surgeons on selection of surgical trainees, methods of assessment of progress of surgical trainees, and revalidation of established consultant surgeons. Results: Selection - the current methods of trainee selection were considered inadequate and in need of revision. The important attributes recognized by group are cognitive factors, innate dexterity, and personality. Important aspects of personality include decision-making ability, insight, team spirit, and emotional stability. Assessment during training - the majority view was that this should be based on clinical judgement/skills, operative skills, and cognitive ability. Assessment of technical ability should be based on standardized checklists. Research within training programs was encouraged but academic achievement does not reflect surgical competence. There was a majority verdict for an exit clinical examination. Revalidation - the group agreed on the need for competence checks during the professional career of surgeons. These should cover knowledge, clinical, operative, and humanistic skills; but expressed concern on the feasibility of a revalidation system that can reliably assess the range of skills needed for surgical competence. There was a majority vote against an internal appraisal system. External assessment by nationally appointed 'assessors' was considered preferable. Conclusions: Both selection and assessment of surgical trainees require changes and standardization. Although revalidation is necessary, concern was expressed on the reliability and validity of existing and proposed systems. © 2001 Excerpta Medica, Inc. All rights reserved.
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