10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Dec 31, 2008
Hey All,
I've been lurking on the forums for a bit, and as someone who's interested in surgery one question that has popped into my mind a couple times is how long of a break/vacation/leave of absence can a surgeon take before feeling rusty? And is the length of time different for different specialties?

For example, let's say you're a general surgeon that takes two months off doing Doctors Without Borders, but the skills you use when you're deployed with them are different from what you use in everyday practice. Would you feel dangerously rusty on your first week back in your regular job?
Last edited:


Rhinestone Cowboy
Moderator Emeritus
10+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Jan 3, 2003
At the bottom of a wishing well . . .
Attending Physician
Good question.

I think most surgeons would say that while you might be a bit rusty if you don't do some of your more technical moves for a while, it comes back pretty quickly. I recently went a couple of months with doing any microsurgery -- when the time came to do a replant, it took a minute to get my scope skills going again. The fact is that most of surgery is mental -- once you master the technical aspects, you can get back again pretty quickly.

Winged Scapula

Staff member
Lifetime Donor
20+ Year Member
Apr 9, 2000
Attending Physician
Perhapw what you don't realize is that, in your example, even if you are doing totally different surgeries during your tour with DWB, the skills and techniques are similar, if not the same and are transferrable. Therefore, you will not be rusty.

How long it takes to become rusty depends on the surgeon, the length of time and the experience. Junior residents without much surgical skill typically become rusty during their time in the lab; a more senior attending taking time off would not be expected to be rusty.

I've known female surgeons to take 6 months off after pregnancy who admitted they felt rusty coming back but that the skills were regained shortly.
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