The Isolated Surgeon: A Scoping Review

Matthew D. Nealeigh*, Walter B. Kucera, Anthony R. Artino, Matthew J. Bradley, Holly S. Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Surgeons in resource-limited environments often provide care outside the expected scope of current general surgery training. Geographically isolated patients may be unwilling or unable to travel for specialty care. These same patients also present with life-threatening emergencies beyond the typical breadth of a general surgeon's practice, in hospitals with limited professional and material support. This review characterizes the unique role of isolated surgeons, so individual surgeons and health care organizations may focus professional development resources more efficiently, with the ultimate goal of improved patient care. Methods: We performed a scoping review of the isolated surgeon, reviewing 25 years of literature regarding isolated US civilian and military surgeons. We examined emerging themes regarding the definition of an isolated surgeon, the scope of surgical practice beyond current training norms, and training gaps identified by surgeons in an isolated role. Results: From 904 articles identified, we included 91 for final review. No prior definition exists for the isolated surgeon, although multiple definitions describe rural surgeons, patients, or hospitals; we propose an initial definition from consistent themes in the literature. Isolated surgeons across varied practice settings consistently performed relatively large volumes of cases of, and identified training gaps in, orthopedic, obstetric and gynecologic, urologic, and vascular surgery subspecialties. Life-threatening, “rare-but-real” cases in the above and neurosurgical disciplines are uncommon, but consistent across practice settings. Conclusions: This review represents the largest examination of the isolated surgeon in the current literature. Clarifying the identity, practice components, and training gaps of the isolated surgeon represent the first step in formalizing support for this small but critical group of surgeons and their patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-571
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Isolated surgeon
  • Medical education
  • Military surgery
  • Rural surgeon
  • Surgical education
  • Surgical training


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