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Objectives. The relation of physician performance to physician training and experience is not well understood. The aim of this study was to examine whether indicators of physician background and experience were associated with an objective measure of physician performance.

Methods. Physician background information obtained from the Directory of Board-Certified Medical Specialists was linked to physician risk-adjusted mortality rates obtained from three statewide data bases of coronary artery bypass surgeons. Subjects were 275 surgeons who performed CABG surgery on 83,547 patients during the years 1989 to 1992. Surgical performance was measured by the mortality ratio (MR), the ratio of the observed to the predicted patient mortality rate as determined by detailed clinical information. Training institutions and physicians were characterized as prestigious if they were listed as outstanding in published articles.

Results. Surgical performance was not associated with graduation from an American medical school; attendance at a prestigious medical school, residency, or fellowship program; or an academic appointment. Mortality ratios decreased with increased volume and increased with years of experience, age, and academic rank. Surgeons were more likely to be considered a "best doctor" if they had more years experience and trained at a prestigious residency or fellowship program.

Conclusions. Training at a prestigious institution was associated with identification as a "best" doctor but not with lower mortality ratios.

(C) 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.