Why the Lab? What is Really Motivating General Surgery Residents to Take Time for Dedicated Research

Elizabeth M. Huffman, Tiffany N. Anderson, Jennifer N. Choi, Brigitte K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective: Over one third of general surgery residents interrupt their clinical training to pursue dedicated research time (DRT), which has financial implications for programs and residents. Studies have examined the impact of DRT on academic outcomes, but little is known about why residents pursue DRT. Therefore, this study aimed to examine resident motivations regarding DRT in order to gain an understanding of resident goals and challenges surrounding this phase of training. Design: Surgical residents currently participating in DRT and residents considering completing DRT were recruited to participate. Members of the research team at each institution conducted interviews and focus groups, which were recorded and transcribed. Data was analyzed using the qualitative method of open and focused coding. Identified themes guided the development of a conceptual framework. Setting: Interviews and focus groups were held at three geographically diverse US academic health centers. Participants: Twenty-one surgery residents participated. Results: Reasons for pursuing DRT fell into 1 of 3 themes: strategic career planning, professional development, and personal rejuvenation. Residents described the perceived need for publications or networking to enhance future competitiveness for desired fellowships or academic appointments. Residents also expressed the desire to have time for career exploration and to cultivate mentorship for their professional career. The need to take time off for more personal reasons, including burnout, was pervasive. Additionally, many in DRT felt under-supported in developing their research skills and expressed a desire for more formal instruction and guidance from mentors. Conclusions: General surgery residents’ motivations to pursue DRT are multifactorial. Professional development is a pervasive motivation and includes learning skills that can be applied to future research. Current DRT programs may be inadequate in supporting residents to achieve this goal. These results can be used to inform programmatic efforts to optimize DRT for residents and mentors alike.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
StateAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Professional development
  • Qualitative research
  • Research
  • Surgical education
  • Surgical residency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Education

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