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August 1994

Can Total Thyroidectomy Be Performed as Safely by General Surgeons in Provincial Centers as by Surgeons in Specialized Endocrine Surgical Units?Making the Case for Surgical Training

Author Affiliations

From the Endocrine Surgical Unit, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards (Drs Reeve and Delbridge), Lismore Base Hospital, Lismore (Drs Curtin and Townend), Bathurst Base Hospital, Bathurst (Drs Fingleton and Mackie), Tamworth Base Hospital, Tamworth (Dr Kennedy), Wagga Base Hospital, Wagga Wagga (Dr Porter), and Manning River District Hospital, Taree (Dr Simons), Australia.

Arch Surg. 1994;129(8):834-836. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1994.01420320060011

Objective:  To determine whether surgeons who had received appropriate training in the technique of total thyroidectomy could continue to perform the procedure with minimal morbidity after moving to a provincial surgical practice.

Design:  Comparison of the complication rates from total thyroidectomy between a specialized endocrine surgical unit and provincial centers.

Setting and Patients:  Six hundred fifty patients undergoing total thyroidectomy by two surgeons over a 5-year period in the endocrine surgical unit at Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, Australia, were compared with 120 patients undergoing total thyroidectomy by seven provincial surgeons who were former trainees in the unit.

Main Outcome Measures:  Indications for surgery and specific complications of thyroidectomy including recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy, permanent hypoparathyroidism, and postoperative bleeding.

Results:  Each of the seven surgeons in provincial practice performed only between two and 16 thyroidectomies annually. The percentage of total thyroidectomies for benign and malignant disease was identical for both the endocrine surgical unit and provincial center groups (44%). There was no difference in the incidence of recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy, permanent hypoparathyroidism, or postoperative bleeding between the two groups.

Conclusion:  Total thyroidectomy is an operation that always engenders controversy relating to the morbidity of recurrent laryngeal nerve and parathyroid injury. Surgeons who have completed a well-designed training program and who have become proficient at total thyroidectomy as trainees will remain proficient at the procedure despite practicing in a provincial center. Achieving a low morbidity rate demands meticulous attention to operative technique and anatomical detail.(Arch Surg. 1994;129:834-836)

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