How Can I Be Successful On My Surgery Rotation?

Surgery is one of the most unique specialties. I remember an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande, one of the most influential surgeons of our time, where he said that surgery was very much like politics. There are characters with different personalities, running things their own way while trying to influence the world around them. After having spent the past two weeks on my surgery clerkship (with four more to go), I couldn’t agree more.

But what really does it take for a lowly medical student (like myself) on his or her first time on surgery to be successful? Well, it starts by knowing a few basic facts.


1. Efficiency is key

While this is very difficult to achieve when you are overwhelmed with 30 patients on your service on the first day you join the team, efficiency is something that surgeons value very much. There’s no time to sit down and talk eloquently about a patient’s I’s and O’s, their creatinine trend, or the differential diagnosis of low hemoglobin. You give them some fluids or blood and move on.


2. Don’t feel bad if you feel unnoticed

Surgeons are perceptive people. Even though it may feel like you are being ignored as the third year medical student, your residents and attendings easily pick up on your competence (or otherwise). This may be during morning rounds when you have the supplies ready to go to change the dressing or in the OR when you anticipate the next move by asking the scrub nurse for scissors to cut the suture ends.


3. Don’t try to upstage your co-medical student, intern, or resident

Surgery is a team sport. Your role is to be a part of the team and bring everyone forward rather than try to be that medical student who steps on others. Chief residents and attendings quickly notice when you try to show up your team members. So just don’t do it.


4. Be present, as much as you can

One of the biggest downfalls of being a medical student is you always feel left out of the conversation. I can count numerous instances where I found out about a change of plans for a patient at the last moment. The only way around this is to be there with your team and listen in on the conversations as actively as possible.


5. Show your enthusiasm and have fun!

While I’m a little biased about this since I love surgery, it’s not that hard to be bowled over by a cool procedure. So show your interest whenever you can.


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Yash Pandya

Yash Pandya is a science writer at The "Almost" Doctor's Channel. He is a rising third-year student at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in Emergency Medicine with minors in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Yash plans on attending the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Fall 2016 with guaranteed admission. In addition to the usual humdrum of academic involvement, Yash loves to play Ping Pong, catch up on the latest "Big Bang Theory," and travel. Having lived in India for half his lifetime, Yash aspires to expand his horizons into international healthcare by practicing medicine globally.