Surgeon Workload in Colorectal Surgery: Perceived Drivers of Procedural Difficulty

Katherine E. Law, Bethany R. Lowndes, Scott R. Kelley, Renaldo C. Blocker, David W. Larson, M. Susan Hallbeck, H. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: To understand how surgeon expectation of case difficulty relates to workload for colon and rectal procedures and to identify possible surgeon-perceived drivers contributing to case difficulty. Materials and methods: For 3 mo, surgeons were asked to complete a modified NASA-Task Load Index (NASA-TLX) questionnaire following each surgical case. Questions included items on distractions, fatigue, procedural difficulty, and expectation plus the validated NASA-TLX items. All but expectation were rated on a 20-point scale (0 = low, 20 = high). Expectation was rated on a 3-point scale (i.e., more difficult than expected, as expected, less difficult than expected). Surgeons also reported perceived drivers contributing to case ease or difficulty. Patient and procedural data were analyzed for procedures with completed surveys. Results: Seven surgeons (three female) rated 122 procedures over the research period using a modified NASA-TLX survey. Mean surgeon-perceived workload was highest for effort (mean [M] = 10.83, standard deviation [SD] = 5.66) followed by mental demand (M = 10.18, SD = 5.17), and physical demand (M = 9.19, SD = 5.60). Procedural difficulty varied significantly by procedure type (P < 0.001). Thirty-five percent of cases were considered more difficult than expected. Surgeon-perceived workload and most subscales differed significantly according to expectation level. There was no significant difference in patient factors by expectation level. Surgeons most frequently reported patient anatomy, body habitus, and operative team characteristics as drivers to difficulty and ease of cases. Conclusions: Procedural difficulty significantly differed across procedure type. More than one-third of cases were more difficult than expected, during which surgeons attributed this to operative team characteristics as well as issues in patient anatomy and body habitus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-63
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Cognitive demand
  • Colorectal surgery
  • Expectation
  • Human factors
  • Physical demand
  • Workload

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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