American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Top 10 Things to Avoid During Your First Years of Practice

Congratulations! You made it through residency and are now ready to launch your career as a surgeon in practice. This transition is exciting, and no doubt you are energized, but there will be some challenges. As the leader of your team both in and out of the operating room, it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls. As someone who has recently made this transition, I’ve compiled the top 10 things to avoid as you start your career:

  1. Avoid being unprofessional, egotistical, or inconsiderate. Remain professional, be a team player and a good communicator in all situations. Maintain good relationships with your partners and staff and always be on time. Be respectful and courteous to everyone you work with in the office and operating rooms. One of the best ways to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings is to maintain communication with staff, referring physicians, and other doctors who are part of the treatment team. When conflict arises it’s important to maintain a professional manner and react with a level head. Self and social awareness, as well as managing relationships, are very important.
  2. Avoid thinking you learned everything in residency. Seek out strong mentors both in and out of the operating room. Mentors can be instrumental in providing guidance, facilitating networking, and finding opportunities to advance your career path and help in achieving your career goals.
  3. Avoid not practicing self-reflection. Ongoing self-assessment and learning are important. Education is a continuous process that is ongoing throughout your career. Reflect on the clinical care that you provide and critique yourself, and seek the advice of trusted mentors to help you improve.
  4. Avoid ignoring self-care. It’s important to take time for yourself, your family, and the people who are important to you. Find a method of stress relief: hobbies, exercising, etc. Schedule free time away from hospital duties for yourself to re-charge and for spending time with the people you love. Diet and exercise are important especially when working long hours. It’s easy to eat junk food and not make time for exercise.
  5. Avoid neglecting your finances. You need to keep track of your finances. After all those years in school and training, you finally have a “real” salary! You may want to hire a CPA or meet with a financial advisor. Repay your student loans, start a retirement account and a college fund if you have children. Get life, specialty specific disability, and long term care insurance. You also want to make sure you understand your malpractice coverage.
  6. Avoid not tracking your outcomes. Maintain and review your outcomes, especially when a complication occurs, maintain your equanimity. Evaluate the case objectively and rationally and seek advice from trusted mentors.
  7. Avoid pursuing activities and practicing in an environment that make you uncomfortable. Stay authentic to your values and goals. Although this is a broad statement, it pertains to your pursuits in academia, administration, and surgical practice. When you first start practicing, you will likely be asked to participate in committees or take on administrative duties. While some involvement is important and may even be required, be sure to also protect your time. You don’t have to say “yes” to every opportunity. In addition, there are a range of different practice models and practice environments. If you sense the model you have chosen is not working for you, admit this early on and don’t be afraid to seek another practice environment.
  8. Avoid not making long-term professional goals. Starting your practice can be overwhelming and you may be quickly swept away with your clinical and administrative duties. Before you know, it a couple of years will have passed. Surgeons often “jump-in” without taking time to think about the future. It is important to early on to create immediate, five year, and long-term professional goals so that you can continually work towards achieving them. Whether you have academic goals, clinical goals, or administrative goals, you will need a plan for promotion in all of these areas.
  9. Avoid the tendency to forget, or feel guilty for, taking credit for your work. Ensure that you log in your hours and cases accurately to ensure proper compensation and credit.
  10. Avoid ignoring your limits. It is important to be self-critical and honest, as well to not be overly confident. You should actively seek out more experienced surgeons for continued learning. Part of being a good surgeon is admitting when you don’t know something or that you are not qualified to do a particular procedure. If needed, be sure to seek out advice and help from senior surgeons to ensure you have a safe and successful practice.