BACKGROUND: The use of advanced technology, such as virtual environments and computer-based simulators (VR/CBS), in training has been well established by both industry and the military. In contrast the medical profession, including surgery, has been slow to incorporate such technology in its training. In an attempt to identify factors limiting the regular incorporation of this technology into surgical training programs, a survey was developed and distributed to all general surgery program directors in the United States. STUDY DESIGN: A 22-question survey was sent to 254 general surgery program directors. The survey was designed to reflect attitudes of the program directors regarding the use of computer-based simulation in surgical training. Questions were scaled from 1 to 5 with 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. RESULTS: A total of 139 responses (55%) were returned. The majority of respondents (58%) had seen VR/CBS, but only 19% had "hands-on" experience with these systems. Respondents strongly agreed that there is a need for learning opportunities outside of the operating room and a role for VR/CBS in surgical training. Respondents believed both staff and residents would support this type of training. Concerns included VR/CBS' lack of validation and potential requirements for frequent system upgrades. CONCLUSIONS: Virtual environments and computer-based simulators, although well established training tools in other fields, have not been widely incorporated into surgical education. Our results suggest that program directors believe this type of technology would be beneficial in surgical education, but they lack adequate information regarding VR/CBS. Developers of this technology may need to focus on educating potential users and addressing their concerns.
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