Starting a Vascular Surgery Fellowship at a Rural Healthcare Center

Published:November 26, 2022DOI:



      In the United States, there is an anticipated critical shortage of vascular surgeons in the coming decades. The shortage is expected to be particularly pronounced in rural areas. Our institution serves a rural and underserved population in which the incidence and prevalence of cardiovascular disease continues to rise. Our institution maintains a general surgery residency and has all the required Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) rotations and educational infrastructure to support a vascular surgery fellowship. This study aims to analyze the vascular caseload at our institution to determine if we and other institutions with similar surgical volumes can support the creation of a 2-year vascular fellowship.


      A single-site retrospective review of the number and type of vascular cases conducted at our institution between July 2016 and June 2021 was performed. The procedures were grouped into the following ACGME-defined categories: abdominal, cerebrovascular, complex, endovascular aneurysm repair, endovascular diagnostic or therapeutic, and peripheral. The total number and annual average for each category was obtained. Using the annual average, a 2-year estimate was calculated and compared to the ACGME minimum for each category. Our 2-year estimate was then compared to the national average for graduating vascular surgery fellows in order to generate a z-score for each category.


      In the specified period, 6100 total surgical procedures were performed by three vascular surgeons at our institution. Two thousand five hundred and seventy-eight of the 6100 procedures met at least one of the ACGME-defined category requirements. Our center greatly exceeded the requirements for each category except for abdominal. This is consistent with trends observed in most centers across the nation, which are seeing a decline in open repairs across all categories, especially in open abdominal repairs. Our center's vascular case volume shows no significant difference the national average in each ACGME category (P ≥ 0.05 for all).


      Despite our center's large vascular caseload and need for more vascular providers, there were not enough open abdominal cases performed to support the training of a vascular fellow. Given the continued decline in open aortic volume across the country, we anticipate that rural centers similar to our own will have difficulty establishing programs to train and recruit vascular surgeons. Flexibility in the abdominal category requirement or creation of open aortic fellowships may be necessary for smaller rural centers to train vascular surgeons and meet the future needs of the specialty.


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