The Supervisor's Toolkit: Strategies of Supervisors to Entrust and Regulate Autonomy of Residents in the Operating Room

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OBJECTIVE: To identify what strategies supervisors use to entrust autonomy during surgical procedures and to clarify the consequences of each strategy for a resident's level of autonomy.

BACKGROUND: Entrusting autonomy is at the core of teaching and learning surgical procedures. The better the level of autonomy matches the learning needs of residents, the steeper their learning curves. However, entrusting too much autonomy endangers patient outcome, while entrusting too little autonomy results in expertise gaps at the end of training. Understanding how supervisors regulate autonomy during surgical procedures is essential to improve intraoperative learning without compromising patient outcome.

METHODS: In an observational study, all the verbal and nonverbal interactions of 6 different supervisors and residents were captured by cameras. Using the iterative inductive process of conversational analysis, each supervisor initiative to guide the resident was identified, categorized, and analyzed to determine how supervisors affect autonomy of residents.

RESULTS: In the end, all the 475 behaviors of supervisors to regulate autonomy in this study could be classified into 4 categories and nine strategies: I) Evaluate the progress of the procedure: inspection (1), request for information (2), and expressing their expert opinion (3); II) Influence decision-making: explore (4), suggest (5), or declare the next decision (6); III) Influence the manual ongoing action: adjust (7), or stop the resident's manual activity (8); IV) take over (9).

CONCLUSIONS: This study provides new insights into how supervisors regulate autonomy in the operating room. This insight is useful toward analyzing whether supervisors meet learning needs of residents as effectively as possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e264-e270
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Surgery
Issue number1
Early online date27-Mar-2020
Publication statusPublished - 1-Jan-2022


  • autonomy
  • entrustment
  • intraoperative teaching
  • teach the teacher
  • GAP

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