Sometimes poor quality papers get published, like the one I wrote about yesterday. Other times, published studies have no impact on science… and occasionally, that’s done on purpose. Two recent studies highlight the latter group and show that, while surgeons may have too much time on their hands, some at least have a sense of humour.

A "groundbreaking" study by Dr. Denis Verwilghen and friends was just published in the Veterinary Record, entitled “Investigation of the best suture pattern to close a stuffed Christmas turkey”. Their randomized trial involved assessing skin disruption scores and the cosmetic appearance of 15 stuffed turkeys that were closed with one of five different methods. Their conclusions: Before cooking, both the Utrecht suture pattern and surgical staples provided the best cosmetic result. However, after cooking and removal of the suture or staples, the skin only remained intact in the surgical staple group. Surgical staples are also a lot easier and quicker to place, so if you have a surgical stapler on hand, pull it out for your Christmas turkey. Beware though: the authors made sure to remind everyone that skin staples are not digestible. Maybe we need a surgical checklist for turkey preparation that requires the cook to record the number of staples that go in and are later taken out.

There was also a study published in the British Medical Journal (Subramanian et al, 2011) entitled "Orthopedic surgeons: as strong as an ox and almost twice as clever? Multicentre prospective comparative study." This authors investigated the standard claim that orthopedic surgeons are "strong as an ox but half as smart." The study (conducted by surgeons, so I have to wonder if they made up some of the data) involved comparing dominant hand grip strength and intelligence test scores of orthopedic surgeons and anesthetists. The end result? Orthopedic surgeons have a higher mean intelligence score and higher mean grip strength.

There are 3 possible explanations:

  1. Surgeons really are smarter than we think. That may not be an acceptable answer since, as an internist, I’d have to make up a new series of surgeon jokes.
  2. Anesthetists were a bad control group. The surgeons may have feared going up against their internal medicine counterparts, and therefore decided to compare themselves to the anesthetists instead.
  3. They lied. Although, if they really are only half as bright as an ox, they must have had help.