Surgery Interest Group

Uniformed Services University

Getting a Surgery Residency

A Message about getting into a surgery residency by Dr. Alan Seyfer

There are many factors that impact on the selection process for surgical residency programs. The following are general observations that I make from my own experiences in selecting residents over the last 20 years.

Although academic prowess is important, it's mainly of value to show the surgery faculty that an individual has the potential to handle the academic portion of the training in surgery. I would have to say that it is not the most important factor - indeed, it's difficult to choose the most important factor, since selection for residency is really a subjective decision.

High on the list for me is always how the individual performed on the surgical services as a medical student. In other words, I think that one should really "pitch in" and become a part of the surgical team when one is on the surgical rotation as a student. This means scrubbing in (in the operating room) on as many operations as possible; seeing to it that each patient has a good progress note by you - in the chart every day; studying the diseases that the patients have - and answering questions on rounds (one doesn't have to be obnoxiously aggressive in this - there are ways to know things and to express oneself without making your classmates look bad - indeed it's a turn-off to everyone when someone is selfish). I think you know what I mean - I mean help everyone and be a team player - all in the best interest of the patient.

You can also help by aggressively evaluating each patient for the signs and symptoms that are important; participating actively in the surgery clinics - even without being told. For example, it always impressed me when a student would go into the clinic examination room, introduce himself/herself to the waiting patient, and proceed to do a brief history and physical examination on the patient - all without being told. Of course, some faculty might object to this, so it's always a good idea to ask if it's okay to do this. However, the clinics are usually so busy that the faculty encourages this. Once the history and physical are done, then make a note in the chart and find the faculty member or resident and proceed to present your findings to them. In this way, you are showing your interest and skills and it's also a great way to become more at ease with patients and their problems. The faculty member will remember this - and will write a good letter of recommendation for you when it comes time to apply for a residency or internship.

I also would rather select an individual who would get up in the middle of the night when called about a patient - and go to evaluate that patient - rather than someone who made the best grades, but would prefer not to get up and go and see the patient. Again, it's a matter of caring for the patient more than for one's comfort.

I think that clinicians who do the resident selections are impressed by the medical student's level of participation more than anything else - because it shows that the student really seems to care about the welfare of the patients and is not afraid to pitch in and help in the care of these patients.

One should also take a rotation on the service and at the institution where one intends to train. In this way, the faculty gets to know you and you also get to know them. This, of course, impacts on the selection process (from both perspectives: the student's as well as the faculty's). I hope that this answers a few questions.

As I indicated, I would be pleased to give a short presentation on this subject to your class and to answer questions at that time. Perhaps, it would be best to do this after the current anatomy/neurosciences course is over and we could meet over a lunch hour.

Alan E. Seyfer, MD