Priorities for professionalism: what do surgeons think?

David J Hillis, Michael W Gorton, Bruce H Barraclough and David Beckett
Med J Aust 2015; 202 (8): 433-437. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00950


Objective: To gain an understanding of the relative importance of the nine surgical competencies and their 27 attributes defined by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), which together provide the curriculum framework for today's surgeons.

Design, setting and participants: Between 9 August and 30 September 2010, trainees and Fellows of the RACS across Australia and New Zealand actively involved in educational activities rated, via questionnaire, the importance of the RACS competencies (technical expertise, communication, professionalism, medical expertise, judgement and decision making, scholarship and teaching, collaboration and teamwork, management and leadership, and health advocacy) and associated attributes.

Main outcome measures: Importance ranking of competencies and their attributes for surgical education and training.

Results: Of 3054 questionnaires distributed, 1834 (60%) were returned. We identified clear priorities in the perceived relative importance of the nine competencies and 27 attributes. The most important attributes were competence, insight, and recognising conditions amenable to surgery; least important were responding to community and cultural needs, supporting others, and maintaining personal health and wellbeing. Key differences were noted for the competency of collaboration and teamwork, which was ranked as more important by trainees than by Fellows. Female trainees and Fellows regarded all attributes as more important than did male trainees and Fellows.

Conclusion: In a complex environment with multiple pressures, the priorities of the competencies are important. Trainees and Fellows had a very similar approach to the prioritisation of the attributes. Of concern is the lesser importance given to attributes beyond individual expertise.

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  • David J Hillis1,0,2
  • Michael W Gorton3
  • Bruce H Barraclough4
  • David Beckett2

  • 1 Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 Russell Kennedy Lawyers, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 4 Australian e-Health Research Centre, Brisbane, QLD.



We thank the RACS for providing funding for the survey; Kellie Hardy, Bronwyn Emerson, Cassie Wannan and Michael Rasmussen, who assisted with the collation of the results and the initial statistical analysis; Baki Billah and Roman Ahmed from the School of Medicine at Monash University, Melbourne, who provided the multifactorial analysis; and the trainees and Fellows of the College who provided their time to complete the survey.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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