Utilization of a cognitive task analysis for laparoscopic appendectomy to identify differentiated intraoperative teaching objectives

Douglas S. Smink, Sarah E. Peyre, David Soybel, Ali Tavakkolizadeh, Ashley H. Vernon, Dimitri J. Anastakis

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23 Scopus citations


Background: Experts become automated when performing surgery, making it difficult to teach complex procedures to trainees. Cognitive task analysis (CTA) enables experts to articulate operative steps and cognitive decisions in complex procedures such as laparoscopic appendectomy, which can then be used to identify central teaching points. Methods: Three local surgeon experts in laparoscopic appendectomy were interviewed using critical decision method-based CTA methodology. Interview transcripts were analyzed, and a cognitive demands table (CDT) was created for each expert. The individual CDTs were reviewed by each expert for completeness and then combined into a master CDT. Percentage agreement on operative steps and decision points was calculated for each expert. The experts then participated in a consensus meeting to review the master CDT. Each surgeon expert was asked to identify in the master CDT the most important teaching objectives for junior-level and senior-level residents. The experts' responses for junior-level and senior-level residents were compared using a χ2 test. Results: The surgeon experts identified 24 operative steps and 27 decision points. Eighteen of the 24 operative steps (75%) were identified by all 3 surgeon experts. The percentage of operative steps identified was high for each surgeon expert (96% for surgeon 1, 79% for surgeon 2, and 83% for surgeon 3). Of the 27 decision points, only 5 (19%) were identified by all 3 surgeon experts. The percentage of decision points identified varied by surgeon expert (78% for surgeon 1, 59% for surgeon 2, and 48% for surgeon 3). When asked to identify key teaching points, the surgeon experts were more likely to identify operative steps for junior residents (9 operative steps and 6 decision points) and decision points for senior residents (4 operative steps and 13 decision points) (P <.01). Conclusions: CTA can deconstruct the essential operative steps and decision points associated with performing a laparoscopic appendectomy. These results provide a framework to identify key teaching principles to guide intraoperative instruction. These learning objectives could be used to guide resident levelappropriate teaching of an essential general surgery procedure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-545
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery

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