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The learning curve for laparoscopic colectomy: experience of a surgical fellow in an university colorectal unit



This study aimed to evaluate the learning curve for laparoscopic colectomy of a surgical fellow in an university colorectal unit using a structured training protocol.


This study analyzed the data from 100 consecutive patients who had laparoscopic colectomy performed by a surgical fellow between 11/2004 and 12/2007. The structured training protocol required the fellow to assist more than 40 laparoscopic colectomies before embarking on his first case. Rectosigmoidectomy was prioritized during the initial experience. Operative times were analyzed to represent the learning curve. Other outcome data including conversion and operative outcome were also evaluated.


The following procedures were performed: 49 rectosigmoidectomies, 38 right colon resections, and 13 other resections. Median operative time was 150 min, and conversion rate was 1%. Overall postoperative morbidity rate was 28% (major morbidity 3%). Three patients required early reoperation. There was no operative death. Median hospital stay was 8 days. Operative times reached their lowest point at period of cases 45–50, and remained relatively stable afterwards. Comparing the first 50 and second 50 cases, the only difference observed was more frequent presence of a supervisor in the theater in the first 50 cases (74% versus 52%, p = 0.02), while the other parameters including types of procedures, postoperative recovery, hospital stay, and morbidity rate were not different.


Our results indicated that laparoscopic colectomy training can be safely performed under a structured protocol. The surgeon can perform laparoscopic colectomies more independently after 50 cases, without jeopardizing the clinical outcome.

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Correspondence to Jimmy C. M. Li.

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Li, J.C.M., Hon, S.S.F., Ng, S.S.M. et al. The learning curve for laparoscopic colectomy: experience of a surgical fellow in an university colorectal unit. Surg Endosc 23, 1603–1608 (2009).

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  • Colon cancer
  • Laparoscopic colorectal surgery
  • Learning curve
  • Operative time