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

Choosing Your Surgical Residency Advisor

Most medical schools have some kind of program that identifies faculty members who are willing to be advisors to students that are interested in particular fields. Whether your school has such a program or not, you should choose at least one faculty advisor. You should get "advice" or information from multiple sources no matter who your official advisor is.

Following is a list of suggestions on whom to consider when choosing your advisor:

  • Someone you rotated with on your third year rotation (they know you, you know them)
  • Someone that fourth year students recommend as helpful
  • Program director at your institution (they know the institution's program more than anyone, and know a lot about other programs)
  • Someone with a national reputation (they know a lot of people and a lot of people know them/recognize their name on a letter of recommendation)
  • Someone you have done research with
  • Someone you want to do a research project with

Once you choose an advisor (who has agreed) to play that role, you should set up a couple of meetings with him or her. The first meeting should be a get-to-know-you meeting. Talk about your career plans, why you want to be a surgeon, and what it takes to succeed.

You can also ask if your advisor has research projects that you can assist on. Most surgeons have a question or two rolling around in their heads that at least needs a literature review and possibly a retrospective chart review to begin to answer. Helping your advisor with a research project is a great way to show her what you can do.

At the next meeting you can start getting advice about different programs, etc. Your advisor can review and critique your CV and your personal statement. Your advisor (as well as other faculty) can relay your likes of a program to people he knows at that institution.

If you are a first or second year student, finding an advisor early may be difficult, but the process has long-term advantages because you will have lots of time to get to know each other and work on projects. It is likely that an advisor will let you come to clinic or the OR with her too, especially during vacations when the third and fourth year students aren't around.

When you get to the point of needing to select programs to apply to, ask everyone that you know in the surgery program their opinions (you should start asking about different programs around the spring of your third year, summer of your fourth year):

  • Ask the fourth year students that have just finished interviewing.
  • Ask the residents at your institution (many came from other places and so have firsthand knowledge of one other place, and the interns just went through the interviews a year ago and can give you their impressions).
  • Ask many different attendings, as many of them have been at different places and know people at other institutions.

Beware though; information from attending surgeons may be based on historical information (their experience) or hearsay (knowing someone at an institution and assuming that what they say is true). Despite that, you cannot underestimate the power of WHO they know.