Background: Administrative and financial pressures on surgical education have created a need for efficient training curricula. Predictors of innate technical ability, which would guide the optimization of such a curriculum, are not well described. The goal of this study was to identify student characteristics predictive of innate pretraining skill level and response to training during the course of a four-week laparoscopic skills development program. Methods: Laparoscopic skills in 35 first-year surgical residents were assessed with the McGill Inanimate System for Training and Evaluation of Laparoscopic Skills (MISTELS) before and after a four-week skills training program and after an interval of approximately 1 year. The correlation between trainee characteristics, including age, sex, designated surgical specialty, and laparoscopic skill level was assessed by using Pearson's correlation and paired t-test studies. Results: Intake MISTELS scores showed no significant correlation to age, sex, or designated field. Interns designated for the general surgery training program had significantly higher final scores than those entering other fields (p = 0.02). There was a negative correlation between trainee age and both degree of improvement during training and final scores (p = 0.02 and 0.05). A history of video game use correlated with significantly higher initial scores and better skills retention (p = 0.03 and 0.04). Conclusions: A laparoscopic technical curriculum can achieve basic proficiency even when taught to a diverse group of trainees. Older residents beginning their surgical careers may be slower to develop technical skills. Choice of subspecialty seems to predict higher level of proficiency after completion of a skills training program among resident students.
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