Over the past several decades, the pharmacologic and endoscopic treatment of peptic ulcer disease (PUD) has dramatically improved. To determine the effects of these and other changes on the operative management of PUD, we reviewed our surgical experience with gastroduodenal ulcers over the past 20 years. A computerized surgical database was used to analyze the frequencies of all operations for PUD performed in two training hospitals during four consecutive 5-year intervals beginning in 1980. Operative rates for both intractable and complicated PUD were compared with those for other general surgical procedures and operations for gastric malignancy. In the first 5-year period (1980 to 1984), a yearly average of 70 upper gastrointestinal operations were performed. This experience included 36 operations for intractability, 15 for hemorrhage, 12 for perforation, and seven for obstruction. During the same time span, 13 resections were performed annually for gastric malignancy. By the most recent 5-year interval (1994 to 1999), the total number of upper gastrointestinal operations had declined by 80% (14 cases), although the number of operations for gastric cancer had changed only slightly. Operations decreased most markedly for patients with intractability, but the prevalence of operations for bleeding, obstruction, and perforation was also decreased. We conclude that improved pharmacologic and endoscopic approaches have progressively curtailed the use of operative therapy for PUD. Elective surgery is now rarely indicated, and emergency operations are much less common. This changed paradigm poses new challenges for training and suggests different approaches for practice.