Background: Residents with performance problems are challenging to program directors and complicate the work of other residents and health care providers. Having an effective, targeted remediation process to address these problems is dependent on being able to diagnose their nature. The purpose of this study was to identify residents who had serious, substantive, and recurring academic, clinical, and/or professional behavior problems, and to describe and classify their nature. Methods: Raters performed a retrospective record review of general surgery categorical residents in one program over 30 years. Residents with substantial problems were reviewed, described, and classified independently by 3 raters. Results: Seventeen residents had serious enough performance problems to be included. Four had only 1 class of problem (3 were professional behavior problems). Eight residents had 2 problems each (5 academic and clinical performance problems; 3 clinical performance and professional behavior problems). Five residents had 3 problems. The number of performance problem facets per case varied from 11 to 2 with an average of 5.9 facets. Relations with health care workers was identified most frequently, followed closely by insufficient knowledge. Poor communication was third. Performance problems of 14 residents (82%) were identified in their first year. For 15 cases, the resident had unresolved performance problems at the end of the program. Conclusion: There are 2 possible explanations for our findings: (1) resident problems similar to these are refractory to remediation; (2) treatments used historically are not well designed for the problems. Choosing among the 2 explanations will require developing remediation strategies targeted to specific patterns of performance problems.
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