If you’re considering surgery any time soon, you might want to take into account the results of a recent study that unveiled a link between a surgeon’s age and the incidence of complications after surgery.

Antoine Duclos MD, from the University of Lyon, France, and colleagues performed a multicenter study that aimed to evaluate the association between experience and performance of surgeons on post-thyroidectomy complications. They reported their findings in the 2011 issue of the British Medical Journal

In a nutshell, thyroidectomy by surgeons aged 35 to 50 years old (with 5 to 20 years of postgraduate experience) had the safest outcomes. Postsurgical complications, however, were more likely if thyroidectomy was performed by either inexperienced surgeons, or those with 20 or more years of experience. 

According to the researchers, medical specialists tend to reach the peak of their expertise between 30 and 50 years of age, corresponding to about 10 years postgraduate specialty experience. 

The study investigated 3,574 thyroidectomies during a one year period at five high volume academic French hospitals. The surgeries were performed by 28 surgeons, with a mean age of 41 years, and an average of 10 years experience. Patients were assessed over a course of 6 months following surgery, for evidence of two major complications of thyroidectomy – permanent recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy and hypoparathyroidism. 

When thyroidectomy was performed by surgeons between 35 and 50 years old (with 5 to 20 years of postgraduate experience), surgical outcomes were better than with younger or older colleagues with respect to both complications. 

The results suggest that the performance of surgeons changes throughout their career. The authors concluded that practising in a high volume hospital does not make up for surgical inexperience, and that surgeons cannot reach or maintain peak performance merely by accumulating additional years in practice. They did state, however, that the influence of other unevaluated determinants may have influenced complication rates, since surgical outcomes are affected by interactions between numerous factors that remain poorly characterized and understood.


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