Learning in the Operating Theatre: A Thematic Analysis of Opportunities Lost and Found

Alexander J. Papachristos, Benjamin P.T. Loveday, Debra Nestel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


OBJECTIVE: The operating theatre (OT) is an important learning environment. Trainees face barriers to learning in the OT that may reduce meaningful educational interactions. The impact of these barriers on the intraoperative learning experience of trainees and the strategies that they employ to overcome them are not known. This qualitative study aimed to describe the intraoperative learning experiences of senior general surgery trainees in Australia and their strategies to optimize learning in the OT. DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS: The authors developed a semi-structured interview guide based on published literature. Purposive sampling was used to identify a representative group of general surgery trainees in Australia, who were interviewed in a private setting with audio recordings deidentified for verbatim transcription and analysis. Thematic analysis was conducted using an interpretivist approach to produce a coding framework. RESULTS: Ten trainees participated in the study. Themes were divided into external and internal barriers to learning, promoters of effective learning and actions to facilitate learning. External barriers included cultural neglect of an important issue, with inadequate prioritization of teaching and a lack of structure for intraoperative learning. From this, we identified the theme of missed opportunities. Internal barriers included difficulties in developing assertiveness required to address these issues and a failure to adequately plan for learning, with reliance on the mentor to initiate. Actions to facilitate learning were rarely employed by trainees, as most were unaware of strategies to maximize intraoperative learning. CONCLUSIONS: Trainees find the barriers to learning in the OT difficult to address and are not well acquainted with strategies that may allow them to maximize their learning.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 24 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • education
  • medical education
  • surgery

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