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07.01.2016 | Ausgabe 9/2016 Open Access

Surgical Endoscopy 9/2016

Multitask training promotes automaticity of a fundamental laparoscopic skill without compromising the rate of skill learning

Surgical Endoscopy > Ausgabe 9/2016
Jamie M. Poolton, Frank F. Zhu, Neha Malhotra, Gilberto K. K. Leung, Joe K. M. Fan, Rich S. W. Masters



A defining characteristic of expertise is automated performance of skills, which frees attentional capacity to better cope with some common intraoperative stressors. There is a paucity of research on how best to foster automated performance by surgical trainees. This study examined the use of a multitask training approach to promote automated, robust laparoscopic skills.


Eighty-one medical students completed training of a fundamental laparoscopic task in either a traditional single-task training condition or a novel multitask training condition. Following training, participants’ laparoscopic performance was tested in a retention test, two stress transfer tests (distraction and time pressure) and a secondary task test, which was included to evaluate automaticity of performance. The laparoscopic task was also performed as part of a formal clinical examination (OSCE).


The training groups did not differ in the number of trials required to reach task proficiency (p = .72), retention of skill (ps > .45), or performance in the clinical examination (p = .14); however, the groups did differ with respect to the secondary task (p = .016). The movement efficiency (number of hand movements) of single-task trainees, but not multitask trainees, was negatively affected during the secondary task test. The two stress transfer tests had no discernable impact on the performance of either training group.


Multitask training was not detrimental to the rate of learning of a fundamental laparoscopic skill and added value by providing resilience in the face of a secondary task load, indicative of skill automaticity. Further work is needed to determine the extent of the clinical utility afforded by multitask training.

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