Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Nobody Comes to Work to Do a Bad Job…

by Mary Brandt, MD

“She’s really impossible… one of the grumpiest people I’ve ever met. We’ve had nurses come back from escorting patients to her almost in tears… if I worked with her, I’d be reporting her on a daily basis.”

I really, truly believe that there’s not a single person who gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says “How can I go to work to do a bad job today?” So what happens? Like the doctor described above, what happens to people that puts them in such a negative frame of mind? There are probably a few real jerks out there – maybe even some with real problems (like a borderline personality disorder). There is literature on disruptive physicians and some of this I’ll address in other posts (substance abuse, depression, compassion fatigue). For now, just consider the idea that most people who misbehave at work have something else going on.

It’s a lot easier to put up with negativity (and even downright rudeness) when you are rested. When you are exhausted, it’s just a lot harder. I think the key is recognizing that being tired makes you vulnerable to act in ways that aren’t “normal” for you…. and then consciously thinking about how to handle it. Here’s a few things to think about as you are taking a deep breath (or two or three..)

1. Don’t fall to their level. Whatever you do – look cool.

2. Don’t respond at all if tempers are hot. Let silence have a minute to work.

3. Try to consciously find a sense of compassion for them. What if their spouse just left them? What if they just got called on the carpet by their program director or chairman? It’s not an excuse – because really bad behavior is never the right answer – but maybe there are some extenuating circumstances.

4. Be personal… in a good way. Watch for an opportunity to discuss last nights football/baseball/basketball/hockey game, or the latest election, or anything that is not related to work. Learn people’s names, ask where they are from, etc. Humor is an important tool, if the opportunity arises and the other person is receptive. Anything you can do to befriend the other person will help – If you are able to develop relationships it’s harder for meltdowns to occur.

5. If it gets out of control you can always – politely and sincerely – walk away with “I’m so sorry you are having a tough day. I hope it gets better for you.”

This post originally appeared May 9, 2010 on Dr. Brandt's website Wellness Rounds


Mary L. Brandt, M.D. is a professor of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine and a practicing pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital. She is involved in education on a day-to-day basis in her clinical work. She also thinks about medical education on a bigger scale through her work as Vice Chair of Education of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. She actively blogs and tweets.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Compassion: Lessons from Roshi Joan Halifax

by Mary Brandt, MD

It’s not often that a talk completely changes the way I think about something.

I’ve been thinking and speaking about compassion fatigue for many years. I recently had the privilege of hearing a wonderful talk by Roshi Joan Halifax. She made a strong and convincing case that “compassion fatigue” is a misnomer… and that we should think about this in a very different way.

We can never have too much compassion nor can true compassion result in fatigue. 

Photo credit

Empathy and compassion are not the same thing.

Empathy is a necessary prerequisite for compassion, but compassion goes beyond empathy. Empathy is the ability to be with someone who is suffering, to be able to feel what they are feeling. Compassion, on the other hand, is being for someone who is suffering, being moved to act and find a way to relieve their suffering.

Link to Roshi Joan Halifax TED talk “Compassion and the true meaning of empathy”

Self-regulation is the key to being able to remain compassionate and this skill can be taught.

We all respond to situations of suffering with “arousal”, a state that varies in intensity depending on the severity of the suffering, and our own memories and experiences. How you respond to this state determines whether you can stay present, effective and compassionate. Roshi Joan Halifax offered the mnemonic “GRACE” as a way to teach this skill to medical students, residents, physicians, nurses and other health care professionals.

G: Gather your attention. Take three deep breaths. Be present.

R: Recall your intention. We choose careers in medicine to help heal the sick and to reduce suffering. It’s not easy to remember this intention when we are overwhelmed. But, in the moment we are faced with a human being who is suffering, we must let our own response (and the demands of the day) go and remember why we are here.

A: Attend to yourself. Being able to detect what is going on in your own body is the same “wiring” you use when you feel empathy. After gathering your attention and recalling your intention, pay attention to what is going on in your body. Watch your breath, feel where there is tension, pay attention to sensations.

C: Consider what will really serve. Moving from empathy to compassion is defined by considering the actions that will relieve suffering. Really consider the person and the situation and decide what is most likely to improve the situation.

E: Engage ethically.

“Developing our capacity for compassion makes it possible for us to help others in a more skillful and effective way. And compassion helps us as well.” Joan Halifax

Photo credit

This post originally appeared January 13, 2014 on Dr. Brandt's website Wellness Rounds


Mary L. Brandt, M.D. is a professor of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine and a practicing pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital. She is involved in education on a day-to-day basis in her clinical work. She also thinks about medical education on a bigger scale through her work as Vice Chair of Education of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. She actively blogs and tweets.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Making time to take care of you.

By: Christina Cellini, MD, FACS, FASCRS

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the day-to-day caring of others – whether patients or family – that we forget to take care of ourselves! I recently experienced this when I found that my eyesight was declining.  When I thought about it, it had been an embarrassingly long time since I had had my eyes checked.  Making an appointment with the eye doctor was quite the ordeal given scheduling restraints. When I had an opening during the week, the doctor didn’t and vice versa. 

I took a moment to take stock of all the health maintenance appointments that I have been remiss in making. There were quite a few!  I realized that although I am healthy enough now, I need to acknowledge that I need to pratice what I preach to my patients and make the time to take care of my own health! 

I made a list of health maintenence appointments and blocked out time far enough in my schedule so that they were a priority.  Making these appointments far enough in advance so that you get the earliest morning appointment (less chance for the physician’s clinic to be running behind as we all know!) tend to be less disruptive to my working day.  And once it’s on my Outlook I know it will be done!

The following links from the NIH outlines what the recommended health screenings are for women by age group: 

Dr. Christina Cellini is an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in the Division of Colorectal Surgery. After obtaining her undergraduate and medical school degrees at Cornell University she trained in general surgery at the NewYork Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. Following residency, she completed a fellowship in Colorectal Surgery at Washington University in St. Louis. She recently completed a Masters in Medical Management at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. She lives in Webster, NY with her husband and 2 children and enjoys running and snowshoeing in her free time. Dr. Cellini serves on the AWS communication committee.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A bit of kindness

by Amalia Cochran, MD

The following is an excerpt from an email I recently received from a mentee:

“I love, love, love surgery, but even as someone who has thrived in this environment, I now acknowledge that there are some aspects of the culture of surgery/academics/surgical and medical education that I am deeply unsettled by and wish very much to change. I see fellow students, residents, fellows, young faculty transform from being full of zeal and goodwill into angry, bitter, jaded people, and it’s absolutely disheartening to see. What’s more infuriating (to me because of the wrongness of it all and because I’m such a fixer) is that those who have been negatively affected and are the very ones capable of enacting positive change because they’ve “been there” sadly become the very ones who perpetuate the indignities of the broken culture, and they don’t even recognize that they’re doing so.”

Her important question that she asked me, and one that I found incredibly wise, was, “Did you ever struggle with this during your training or see this among your colleagues? Or even now?”

I asked her if I could answer this on the blog, and she graciously said yes. It was important for me to do so because I feel obliged to make some confessions related to her concerns.

The biggest one? I had many days during my residency when I was so tired, so broken, so frustrated that I wasn’t a nice person. While I was able to focus on doing the right thing for my patients, I could be and often was impatient with students who needed nurturing and staff who were still learning too. I was so Hell-bent on my own survival, on not making mistakes, on not showing any shred of evidence that I might not be able to succeed as a surgeon that I had no qualms about running over people. I nearly quit surgical residency during my PGY2 year because I didn’t like what I was my self becoming (then was nurtured by some VERY kind mentors who managed to help me hang in there).

I attribute a significant portion of my behaviors when they weren’t outstanding to sleep deprivation and not having a functional set of skills for coping with my chronic exhaustion. I also attribute some of my less-than-ideal behaviors to the surgical culture in which we were supposed to prove that we’re tough and don’t have flaws. Reality check: I may be resilient- I far prefer that word to “tough”- but I do have flaws. Sometime around my 40th birthday, I became okay with that.
  • I want to believe I was asked about this topic because I’m seen as someone who is generally patient and supportive. A few key lessons have helped me get back to this place, one in which I think I existed prior to my 7 years of complete exhaustion and chronic stress.
  • We’re all struggling. Every one of us is, in one way or another. That’s not a source of shame, it’s a source of humanity.
  • If those moments in which your lesser self shows up are rare, people believe you when you apologize for your behavior.
  • We are all learning, ever hour of every day. That’s what we’re here to do in a teaching environment.
  • As someone in a position of leadership, my team and those around my team rely on me to set a tone. I don’t want that tone to be one of nastiness, blaming, and negativity because I want/ need a high-achieving team. Therefore, it’s up to me to be supportive, to be patient, to take a deep breath before reacting, even when my gut wants to say, “WHAT were you thinking?!?”
  • When people are intimidated, their ability to think critically is impaired. Working in an ICU, I need everyone around me to be a critical thinker. Kindness does much more towards that end than bullying.
  • If all else fails, go for a walk with the dog. Dogs are masters of this moment being the very best moment ever and that influence is contagious- particularly on a snowy day if one has a Siberian Husky in their life (as I do).

If nothing else I wrote tonight resonates with you, it’s my hope that a picture of an incredibly happy husky will help you pause and be a bit kinder.

This post originally appeared March 24, 2014 on Dr. Cochran's website Life in the Wild West


Dr. Amalia Cochran is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Utah.  She is heavily involved in undergraduate medical education, serving as the Surgery Clerkship Director and the Director for the Applied Anatomy track for 4th year medical students at the University of Utah.  Her research interests lie in surgical education and in clinical outcomes in burns.  She is completing her term as Vice President for the Association of Women Surgeons. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

At the End of the Day -- Advice to a Young Surgeon

by: Carol EH Scott-Conner, MD, PhD, MBA

When I finished surgical residency and took my first job as an Assistant Professor, I emerged from a fog of chronic sleep deprivation and became conscious, as if for the first time, of a myriad of new emotions associated with work and home. Over the years that followed, I developed some methods and rituals that served me well. I pass them along to you, in the hopes that some small measure of what follows may be of assistance. As you read these words, remember that for more than three decades I was a general surgeon and it is only in the past four or five years I've concentrated on breast cancer.

As you read these observations, put them into the context of something in your own practice that you might find unutterably sad or difficult. For example, when a critically ill teenager lies up in SICU dying of massive head trauma; or, perhaps, when you have had to perform a “peak and shriek” when you had hoped to do a definitive resection of a tumor.
  1. When talking with the patient or family about a bad thing: breathe slowly and deeply, relax all your muscles, and listen. Let them talk. Sometimes that is all you can do to help them. It will help you as well. Repeat your explanation simply and carefully. Be as accurate as you can. Remember that what you say may be different from what they hear. Bring a third party with you – the family clergy, a hospital chaplain, a nurse, social worker – if it seems appropriate. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Human touch is good.
  2. End your work day with something good. If you have three patients in hospital to see on evening rounds, and two are critically ill and the third is recovering nicely, see the one who is doing well last. Sit down at that patient’s bedside, breathe and relax, talk and listen. Hold our your hand and nine times out of ten the patient will take your hand and hold onto it. Rejoice in the success. Live in the moment with that patient.
  3. When you get home after something bad has happened, cue your “best friend” as to your mood. My “best friend” is my spouse, but it might be your partner, your housemate, or even your dog. Whatever. When I go home, the first thing I say is “I love you and I missed you.” But then, when we are standing side by side and making dinner, I say something very nearly like this, “Something bad happened today,” and I pause. Then I might say, “We admitted a teenager with a bad trauma. I don’t think he’s going to make it.” That’s all I need to say. My husband knows what mindset I’m bringing to the dinner table. My burden lightens almost immediately.
  4. If your “best friend” tries to console you (which is a normal human response) don’t shoot back, “you just don’t understand” (another normal human response), even if that is what you feel like saying. Say, “it wasn’t like that, it was…” or, “I’m not ready to talk about it yet…” They don’t understand until you explain it to them. If you are fortunate enough to have a person in your life who has chosen, of all the people in the world, to stand by your side, then you should share your world with them. I don’t necessarily mean all the gory details. My husband was a medic in Vietnam and went on to medical school, but even he doesn’t want to hear it. I am always struck how spouses of soldiers with PTSD say, “he shut me out. He won’t talk about it.” Remember, your “best friend” is attuned to your moods, but isn’t a mind reader. Unless you tell that person why you are moody or depressed, they won’t know.
  5. Then, immediately, let it drop. Don’t use your bad day as a cop out or an excuse. Wipe the slate. Have dinner, play with your kids, walk the dog, whatever. Live in the moment with your family (or dog). Later, read, write (journal), think about the incident, talk to colleagues, whatever works for you. But let the naming of the problem be a signal to put it to rest for the evening.
  6. Give your “best friend” some follow up, if they wish. A couple of days later, you may be able to say, “that teenager we admitted the other day? He’s starting to wake up. He’s doing a lot better than we expected” or “He died today.”
  7. Exercise is good. Get some exercise every day. I like to bicycle to and from work whenever weather permits. On the ride home, I try to concentrate on my surroundings, rather than the day that has passed, or the day ahead of me tomorrow. When bicycling isn’t feasible, I try to swim. Find something that works for you, and concentrate on your body and all of your senses.
  8. Drugs and alcohol are bad. I’m not talking about a glass of wine with dinner, I’m talking about stopping at the bar to knock back a couple of stiff ones before you go home.
  9. Be a warrior. By that I mean, acknowledge that you have chosen a noble and dangerous path. A path that will take you into daily contact with death and the deepest mysteries of life. Draw strength of that. And always remember that you are not walking the warrior’s path alone.

Dr. Carol Scott-Conner is an Endocrine and Breast Oncology Surgeon and Professor of Surgery  - Surgical Oncology and Endocrine Surgery at University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

The 2013 AWS Foundation Awards

by: Susan Kaiser, MD, PhD, FACS

AWS Foundation Awards
Monday, October 7, 2013
Washington DC

Dr. Susan Pories & Dr. Joyce Majure

The Nina Starr Braunwald Award (given first to Claude Organ MD in 1993), recognizing outstanding contributions to the advancement of women in surgery, was presented to Joyce Majure MD, a member of the AWS since its very first meeting in 1981, who practices general surgery in a small city in Idaho.  Dr. Majure produced the first AWS newsletter and created the Pocket Mentor, first published in 1993 and now in its fifth edition, initially designed to help women surgical residents who lacked female role models in their training programs. Dr. Majure herself has been a role model for generations of AWS members.

Dr. Susan Pories & Dr. Hilary Sanfey

The 2013 Olga Jonasson Distinguished Member Award (given first to Christine Haycock MD in 1990 as the Distinguished Member Award), recognizing a member surgeon who exemplifies the ideals and mission of the AWS, was awarded to Hilary Sanfey MD, a transplant surgeon,Professor of Surgery and Vice Chair for Educational Affairs at Southern Illinois University.  Among her very significant contributions to and activities on behalf of the AWS, Dr. Sanfey founded our first local chapter.

Dr. Marsha Moses & Dr. Susan Pories

The 2013 Past Presidents’ Honorary Member Award (given first to Judith Briles PhD in 1990 as the Honorary Member Award), for important activities in support of the mission and values of the AWS, was given to Marsha Moses PhD, a teacher and biochemist, Director of the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children's Hospital, and posthumously to Keith D. Amos MD, a beloved surgical oncologist and researcher at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Dr. Meera Kotagal & her parents

The 2013 Hilary Sanfey Outstanding Resident Award (given first to Janice Cormier MD in 1999), for a resident who demonstrates potential as a future leader in surgery, was awarded to Meera Kotagal MD of the University of Washington. 

Dr. Susan Pories, Jamie Anderson & Dr. Patricia Numann

The Patricia Numann Medical Student Award (given first to Sudha Jayaraman in 2003), established to encourage and support female medical students pursuing a career in surgery, was awarded to Jamie Anderson of the University of California at San Diego.

Inspired by these award winners and their stories? Make a contribution to the AWS Foundation today. Please help us continue this wonderful tradition. 

The AWS Foundation is currently accepting nominations for the 2014 Awards. Check out our website for more information and applications. Deadline to submit a nomination is July 14, 2014. 

Health and Surgical Residency

People like me are more interested in talking about healthy living than actually living it, since our lifestyles are often the direct opposite of healthy. This article is based on my experiences during residency and is meant to create a broader perspective of health.  I am going to categorize health into three systems: body, mind, and soul. All three systems are interdependent, and together in harmony, lead to a healthy lifestyle.

Physical Health

Breakfast is the most essential meal of the day and should not be missed, as the rest of the meals are not guaranteed in residency. Try to start your day with a good breakfast, and you will see the difference in your performance immediately. Keep water with you, and actually drink it. Snack with fruits and nuts instead of sugar-loaded food and drinks.

Don't postpone bathroom breaks until they become emergencies. Physical exercise in the form of running, pull-ups, swimming, dancing, or playing your favorite game is refreshing. Remember anything is better than nothing. Stretching at the start of the day with yoga, even if it is for five minutes can make a huge difference.
Respect Sleep Hygiene. Try to sleep and wake up early. Sometimes we try to push ourselves to stay up late and study. Learning in this circumstance is usually sluggish at the best with minimal retention. On the other hand, being able to rest at the earliest when you need it the most is more natural and energizing. Early morning reading is usually more efficient and retentive. For night shifts, make a sleep schedule and follow it regularly. Don’t underestimate the power of a good shower at the start and end of your day.

Mental Health

At the start of the day, remind yourself of the love you have for the work you do and be thankful for getting this opportunity.

Remember to smile and even laugh. It's infectious, creates positive energy, and prevents any burnout
Talk to someone like your mentor or a friend if you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with work-related stress before it is too late. Try not to carry work-related issues back home where they can be injurious to the mental health of your family. Also have some time set aside for your family once in a day or in a week—whatever is possible. Don't take your family members for granted, as their support is very valuable and they deserve your time too. Very little but pleasant family time reboots our mind for another challenging day ahead. Remember: residency is a marathon and perseverance matters a lot. Develop a mechanism to cope with complications and deaths on your service. If it’s not learnt during residency, the lack of an appropriate coping mechanism may blunt your professional progress post-residency and can make people quit, too. Discussing with your peers is very helpful in developing a better understanding on how to avoid complications if possible in future. Learn from others’ complications too.

Passive TV watching can be deleterious for mental health as it leaves you unsatisfied at the end wanting for more. However, doing activities of your interest like playing games/ cooking/ writing/ teaching/ etc. gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Be a better you everyday than wasting time in being better than someone else to avoid placing a limit on your own abilities. Constructive criticism from anyone is very helpful in that regard. Try and resist anger and arrogance as you grow through residency. Look at the most successful surgeon that you ever met and you will notice that they are the most humble people.

Spiritual Health

After listening to successful people of various fields, I have realized that the key to their happiness is staying connected to their inner self.

It not only makes them very focused, and hence, efficient in their work but also builds mental strength over a period of time. It is also very helpful in maintaining balance in work and family life. Most people following various paths achieve this state with meditation. It doesn't have to be for days, hours, or even minutes. It can be as little as meditating a breath at a time. Regretting for our past mistakes or worrying too much about future makes us forget the beauty of now. I would strongly recommend listening to Google talks by Ekhart Tolle or reading his book, ‘Power of Now’. As we start living in the present, life becomes more beautiful and meaningful.

As a member of a health care delivery system, it is essential for us to strive for a healthy lifestyle and then lead the society by our own examples.

Bharti Jasra, MD is a medical graduate from India finishing up her General Surgery Residency at Saint Louis University Hospital. She is interested in specializing in Breast Surgical Oncology.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Strategies for Wellness in Medical School

by Sophia K. McKinley 

Medical school presents multiple threats to wellness:  USMLE exams, demanding rotation schedules, and weeks of residency interview travel all pose challenges to healthy habits.  We go to medical school to learn how to take care of others and yet we often fail to take care of ourselves.  Of course medical students know they are supposed to eat vegetables, they know that sleep and exercise are important, and they know that it is hazardous to let stress get out of control.  Knowing all of this information, I once caught myself at a hospital desk late at night consuming pretzel M&Ms in lieu of dinner... for the third day in a row. 

I’ve struggled as much as anyone with practicing wellness during medical school, but now that graduation is in sight, I can look back across the past several years and identify the strategies that were (sometimes) effective.  Perhaps the main point is that there is no silver bullet—it took a variety of tactics to approximate the kind of healthy life that we in medicine encourage others to follow.  Here are some strategies that worked for me. 

1.    Look for free exercise:  I lived 4 miles from medical school and most of the university-affiliated hospitals.  Every morning I rode my bike to the medical area, and I invested in whatever boots/coats/facemask it would take to permit bicycle-commuting through the winter months.  Even though it was only a 20 minute ride, I accumulated over 1000 miles a semester!  On the wards, I tried taking the stairs whenever possible as another source of free exercise. 

2.    Overschedule workouts:  I instituted a “pencils-down” rule during Step 1 studying.  Every night at 8:30 I attempted to force myself to go to the gym for 45 minutes no matter what.  It was difficult and I sometimes didn’t make it, but having that daily commitment made it much more likely that I ended up on the treadmill than if I had just decided I would exercise when I was finished (is anyone ever finished studying?).  I would even pencil yoga classes into my schedule while on the wards.  Even if I went straight home most days, I’d make it to the class more often than if I didn’t think about how it would fit into my life at all.
3.    Cook in advance: I spent an entire weekend every several weeks freezing individual GladWare containers full of homemade stews and vegetable-based meals.  Somehow all the chopping, measuring, and simmering were more tolerable in bolus form.  I ordered the plastic containers in bulk online, and I convinced my mother to give me a chest freezer as a holiday gift to increase the interval I could go between cooking sessions.  By putting in the time up front, I had all the microwave convenience of take-out without the nutritional or financial drawbacks.

4.    Non-food rewards:  I noticed that if I had tough day or was feeling celebratory, I would head to a bakery cafĂ© or treat myself to a fancy chocolate.  At some point in medical school, likely after learning about all the sequelae of diabetes, I started looking for non-food rewards.  They were as simple as taking 20 minutes to read a short story or buying myself flowers.  Writing a letter to a friend or spending extra time playing with my cat were other substitutes for the chocolaty pastry I might otherwise nibble on.

5.    No caffeine after 1pm:  I started sleeping much better after I adopted this habit.  Barring extreme circumstances, all PM coffee was decaf.

6.    Ask for help: I’m lucky to have a partner who will follow-through when I ask him to bug me to go for a run or who will make a recipe I print out.  Even if you aren’t in a relationship with someone who will cook for you or motivate you to exercise, friends are great resources.  I’ve had grocery-cooking dates with friends, and it always feels worse to cancel on a gym session if a buddy is counting on you to show up.

7.    Be honest with yourself: perhaps the most effective strategy of all was to think deeply and honestly about the reasons why, despite knowing so much about the importance of healthy habits, I would find myself eating candy for supper.  Eventually I realized that I was embracing a very narrow view of productivity in which I only considered academic activities to be worthwhile.  I consistently discounted the value of time spent on an outdoors run or meeting a friend to catch up.  Who wants to become so unidimensionally focused on medicine that there isn’t space for other aspects of human flourishing including being healthy or connecting with others?  I’ve tried to abolish the guilt of putting down a manuscript by remembering that working out, eating well, and spending time with important people are just as valuable and important as being a diligent medical student.

Surgical internship is on the horizon, and with that will come even greater stressors and challenges to living a healthy, balanced life.  I’m sure I will need to develop different strategies to minimize the damage that surgical residency can wreak on a person’s body and mind.  Likely there will be periods of intense imbalance when it will feel impossible to muster the energy to climb one flight of stairs or make a peanut butter sandwich.  Yet no matter how many times I catch myself eating pretzel M&Ms for dinner, one of my goals is to be a surgical resident who never gives up on aspiring towards fitness and wellness.  Surgery is an incredible field, and I plan to enjoy the training and rewards of practice for as many healthy years as possible.  


Sophia is a dual-degree M.D./Ed.M. student at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She received the 2012 Association of Women Surgeons Patricia Numann Medical Student Award and spent a year as a Zuckerman fellow at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. Sophia is passionate about medical education, and she hopes to be an academic surgeon who brings educationally-sound innovations to surgical training. She will be begin a categorical general surgery residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in June 2014.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Practical Wellness Tips to Surviving Residency

by: Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, MS, MD

In medical school, I remember the first week of orientation they had a lecture on wellness and all the pieces of the theoretical "wellness pie" that we should be balancing: emotional, physical, occupational, social, intellectual, spiritual, environmental. While this "pie" looks fantastic, and on paper it's an evenly divided 1/7th for each piece, any resident knows this is never going to be the case for our five years of general surgery training. 

Here are some tips and ideas I've picked up along the way during my intern year: 
  1. Take the stairs during rounds, it may be the only physical activity you get.
  2. Find ways to tighten different muscle groups while sitting in a chair and flex/release them during grand rounds, lectures, etc. It's a tiny bit of exercise AND it helps you stay awake post-call. Win-win.
  3. For post-call lectures or grand rounds, COLD caffeinated drinks (i.e. frappucinos, iced coffees, coke, etc.) are, in my opinion, your best bet on helping keep you awake. HOT coffees or other caffeinated beverages like tea would be a good runner up.
  4. Park as far away as you can do safely. Extra walking and think time to and from the hospital.
  5. Make non-hospital friends. It's easy to get sucked into the hospital bubble and you always have something to talk about. But it's good for your brain and your sanity to talk to people about something other than "How's the patient doing?"
  6. Bring your food from home if you're ever able to. It feels like a tiny bit of normalcy to not eat cafeteria food.
  7. Don't blame gaining intern pounds on the cafeteria food. There's always a way to eat healthy (even if it's just portion sizes), no matter what options there are.
  8. Wear your regular jeans on weekends or at night when you can, it will remind you what your normal size is supposed to be. It's easy to gain weight in scrubs and never realize it.
  9. Study for lectures and cases as if you were the attending and everything being done depends on your knowledge of it.
  10. Any time you can be outside, take it! Even if it's walking to clinic instead of driving, or taking the outside route to your car instead of the inside route. The sunshine is good for you.
  11. Be tough as nails like you normally are; but if something gets to you- a patient's story, your attending's choice words, your family's misunderstanding of what you're doing with your time, it's okay to cry. Just do it in private (private bathroom stalls or your car are generally acceptable), compose yourself ASAP, and get back on the horse as fast as you can. Don't wallow in sadness or being upset, but get your good cry out; it's okay to have human emotions.
  12. Find something spiritual that you can connect with, whether it's meditation, prayers, whatever your beliefs. It will get you through the long hours and the hard days to come.
  13. If you're early in your residency, and find that your current field isn't for you, CHANGE! It's much easier to justify 1-2 years of training you won't use, than to have a lifetime of not enjoying going to work every day.
  14. Sometimes when residency's hard and just no fun, remember that this is your JOB. You're paid to do it, just like every other employee on the earth is paid to do their job. Sometimes you just work hard because you're supposed to work hard.
  15. I don't read, but I wish I did. Having a good book to read would be a great way to wind down at night.
  16. Power bars and those small nut packets are great to keep in your white coat pocket for major hypoglycemic moments on rounds and in the OR (obviously in preop or postop).
  17. There are small, organic power juices and drinks that would be a good source of energy/caffeine if you really, really needed it.
  18. Keep surgery journals in your locker or somewhere at work for down time at work when you could be doing something productive.
  19. Keep Excedrin, Tylenol, Motrin, whatever works for you in small supply at work; you WILL need it and will be so glad to have it for a headache, etc.
  20. Wash your white coat every once in a while. And wear comfortable shoes!
  21. Remember your family and friends, and do nice things for THEM every once in a while. Call them on the way to or from work, send them an email or a text while riding the elevator or waiting for a call back from a consult. Keep these relationships thriving, they are the ones you will turn to when things get really tough or really great. 

Obviously I'm an intern and have a long way to go, but these are things that have helped me along the way this year! 

Does anyone else have tips & tricks they use for wellness during a surgical residency?

Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, M.D, M.S. is a PGY1 general surgery resident at Methodist Dallas Medical Center and a member of the AWS Communications Committee. She obtained her M.D. from Ross University School of Medicine, M.Sc. from Barry University in Biomedical Science, and studied Biomedical Science and Spanish at Texas A&M University. She enjoys being a surgical intern and mentoring medical students. In her personal time she enjoys spending time with her husband and son, interior design, international travel, and Texas Aggie football. 


by Mary Brandt, MD

Dear Dr. Brandt,

I enjoy your blog very much. As a second year medical student, I know that my peers and I all struggle with what we view as ‘failure’ at some point or another. I imagine this problem doesn’t stop (…ever), especially since medicine seems to attract people who hold themselves to extremely high, if not impossible, standards. If you’re looking for topics, I wonder if you might have some insight to offer on how to deal with the downfalls along the way.

Dear Colleague,

It is part of our profession that we will never stop trying to be perfect and – just as true – that we will always fall short. As a student, it tends to be about the tests you are taking and the feeling that you will never study enough. As a resident, it’s the feeling that you don’t know enough to make the decisions you are being asked to make. As a practicing physician, you will at times stay awake at night worrying about your decisions, even when you know you did the best you could. All of this sounds like a huge downside to the profession we’ve chosen, but it’s actually a blessing. One of the core personality traits of physicians is that they care. In a way, all of the stress about not doing well enough happens only because you have empathy and compassion for your patients.

Although it’s hard to believe at the beginning, with time you will realize that the feeling of having “failed” is actually a gift. You’ll discover that “mistakes” and, more importantly, “near misses” become your most valuable teachers. What’s important is that you grasp the opportunity to learn from falling short, rather than beating yourself up. “Failing” at a task (or test) is different than being a “failure.” When you have moments you feel you could have done better, use it as motivation to study a little more, go back to the textbook, look up one more article, or review all the facts again. William Osler, in his famous book to medical students (Osler’s Aequanimitas) talked about keeping a journal of mistakes: “Begin early to make a threefold category – clear cases, doubtful cases, mistakes. And learn to play the game fair, no self-deception, no shrinking from the truth… It is only by getting your cases grouped in this way that you can make any real progress in your post-collegiate education; only in this way can you gain wisdom with experience. “

So, to answer your question about how to deal with the downfalls along the way - Start by revisiting your motivation. Remember why you started down this path in the first place. If you are trying your best to do the right thing, and are humble about the fact that you are human (and will therefore fall short) you can end every day with satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. That being said, make sure that you work with focus – that when you study or work it is with dedication to the patients and families who are trusting you with some of the most precious decisions of their life. When you fall short, use it as motivation to learn. But, in this process, make sure you are taking care of yourself by taking time for good nutrition, exercise, social interactions and spiritual growth. The worst thing you can do when you feel inadequate is to just work more and more. This leads inevitably to compassion fatigue, which makes you less effective (and will make you suffer). Compassion fatigue is a common diagnosis for care-givers; it happens to every medical student, resident or physician at some point in time. Just like any other diagnosis, the next step is treatment. In a nutshell, the treatment is self-care. Here are few sites that can help you with tips to prevent and treat compassion fatigue:

Top 12 Self-Care tips

Preventing Compassion Fatigue

Do’s and Don’ts of Compassion fatigue

This post originally appeared November 13, 2010 on Dr. Brandt's website Wellness Rounds


Mary L. Brandt, M.D. is a professor of Surgery, Pediatrics, and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine and a practicing pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital. She is involved in education on a day-to-day basis in her clinical work. She also thinks about medical education on a bigger scale through her work as Vice Chair of Education of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. She actively blogs and tweets.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Can we have an AWS Visiting Professor every year?

Submitted by: Dr. Jane Wey
CCF Chair of Surgery: Dr. Matt Walsh

Summary of Visit
AWS Kim Ephgrave Visiting Professor Dr. Tuttle-Newhall
Cleveland Clinic
March 4-5, 2014

Dr. Tuttle-Newhall arrived on March 4, 2014 for her visit hosted by the Cleveland Clinic. In the afternoon, she presented on “Challenges for Women in Academic Medicine” to a group of 25 residents and staff from across the Cleveland Clinic campus, hosted by the Women’s Professional Staff Association (WPSA). This was followed by a reception and a lively question/answer session.  She also had a chance to review the 2013 WPSA Annual Report, documenting accomplishments by the Cleveland Clinic women staff and ongoing initiatives. The staff in attendance included those practicing in surgery, gynecology, emergency medicine, and various other surgical and medical subspecialists. Dialogues included those addressing Dr. Tuttle-Newhall’s past experiences and her insights and advice for trainees and other staff. Several people requested that she share her slideset so that those unable to attend the event could still benefit from her insights.

Dr. Tuttle-Newhall was then the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by the Women’s Professional Staff Association, attended by selected women surgical residents, surgical staff (including a former co-resident of Dr. Tuttle-Newhall’s), and the WPSA president, Dr. Margaret McKenzie (gynecology).  Again conversation was lively, ranging from casual conversation about life experiences to more serious discussions about women in academic/medical leadership and collaborative efforts between women’s organizations.

On March 5, Dr. Tuttle-Newhall presented Grand Rounds on “Quality, Data, and Transparency: The New Era of Healthcare” to over 100 staff and trainees of the Digestive Disease Institute, where she was introduced by Dr. Dympna Kelly, a senior transplant surgeon and professional associate of Dr. Tuttle-Newhall’s . This was a well-attended event, which again generated an animated question/answer session.

Following Grand Rounds, Dr. Tuttle-Newhall met with a group of approximately 60 residents and fellows.  The group consisted of general surgery residents, abdominal transplant fellows, liver transplant fellows and a kidney/pancreas transplant fellow.  Five transplant related cases were presented by the residents and fellows and were discussed in detail with Dr. Tuttle-Newhall, with many of the transplant staff in attendance, as well. 

Next, Dr. Tuttle-Newhall was taken on a tour of the hospital, this included a viewing of the transplant operating rooms and the transplant regular nursing floor. Brief walk rounds were conducted and an additional patient case was presented to Dr. Tuttle-Newhall. With patient permission, she reviewed relevant labs and pertinent images with the resident group. She then briefly met and conversed with this pre-selected liver transplant patient. 

Finally, Dr. Tuttle-Newhall had lunch with residents, fellows and staff surgeons, hosted by the Department of General Surgery. A series of final questions were asked and answered and Dr. Tuttle-Newhall made closing remarks.

Overall, Dr. Tuttle-Newhall’s visit was very well received by everyone at the Cleveland Clinic. The attendees at her various presentations were uniformly impressed by her. Many made comments about her accomplishments “for someone so young” and her friendly and approachable personality.

Her presentation on "Challenges to Women in Academic Medicine/Surgery" in particular struck a chord with many non-surgical women physicians, and several people approached me afterwards to express appreciation that the event was opened up and publicized for all women physicians, rather than just surgeons. I’ve already been asked whether we can have a visiting AWS professor every year! In contrast, the Grand Rounds presentation was made to our mostly-male institute, but even the senior staff were impressed by her and remained in attendance to hear her insights during the resident case presentations. We were privileged to host Dr. Tuttle-Newhall. She proved to be an excellent visiting professor and ambassador for the AWS, raising awareness of the challenges of being a women surgeon while also increasing visibility of how successful and accomplished a woman surgeon can become. 

Read Dr. Tuttle-Newhall's experiences as an AWS Visiting Professor here
Read her talk "Challenges for Women in Academic Medicine and the Question of Leadership."

Coming soon... applications for 2014-2015 Visiting Professors and host sites! 

The Kim Ephgrave Visiting Professor program provides medical schools with the opportunity to request top women surgeons as speakers and receive funding from the AWS Foundation. Opportunities to lecture heighten the visibility of women surgeons while encouraging women medical students to pursue similar careers. In addition, the Kim Ephgrave Visiting Professor Program promotes dialogue between practicing surgeons and the academic community. The program was recently named in memory of Dr. Kim Ephgrave (1956-2012), who served in the AWS Leadership from 1997 - 2002 and as AWS President in 2000/2001.

Kim Ephgrave Visiting Professors have an opportunity to share professional and personal experiences with Department Chairs, Faculty, Residents and Students through grand rounds, walk rounds, lecture and research presentations and other arranged opportunities.

Medical Centers provide the platform for the experience by hosting the Kim Ephgrave Visiting Professor at a breakfast, luncheon and/or dinner meetings and arranging for clinical experiences.

Click here for more information on the Visiting Professor Program. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A place of our own

by Amalia Cochran, MD

Apparently there are a number of men who, upon hearing about a women surgeon’s activity will state, “We don’t get to have a men in surgery group!”

This statement is both true and untrue.

While it would probably be considered politically incorrect to have a formal “men in surgery organization”, it can easily be argued that academic surgery remains the “men in surgery” club. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of women in surgery residencies increased from 24% to 37% of trainees, breaking that 33% number often associated with achieving “critical mass” for any non-majority group. However, in the ranks of academic surgery in 2012, women constituted 21% of surgery faculty, and women are apparently stalled as 9% of full professors in surgery. This paucity of women in academic surgery does matter, both in terms of availability of role models for our residents and students, and in terms of how women are seen and perceived in academic surgery. If you were to ask most (if not all) of my male colleagues if they have walked into a room at a surgical meeting and felt out of place, the vast majority would tell you no, and many would look at you like you were crazy for asking. In contrast, I know experientially from speaking to many of my female colleagues that we’ve walked into any number of surgical settings and felt fairly certain we didn’t belong there. My first experience of this nature came during my fourth year of medical school while on the interview trail- I was one of 40 interviewees at a program that shall remain unnamed on a given date, and I was the only woman in the interview group. While I knew I deserved the interview, I inferred that being a resident there had the potential for me to have to fight lots of battles that involved being judged not on my work, but on my gender. I didn’t have an interest in that. I still occasionally make jokes about it when I find myself seated in a room of surgeons in which I am the only woman- and yes, this does still happen in 2014.

My support for and involvement in organizations like the Association of Women Surgeons, is predicated on this idea that as women we do need a place where we are exclusively looked at for our body of work and where we aren’t judged for being any of the stereotypes associated with single/ married/ divorced/ childless/ childed women surgeons. For me, and for many others, it’s been a “safe” environment to expand our leadership skills and to experiment with authentic engagement with colleagues. My experience in a social sorority in college was similar, in terms of it being a place where my leadership skills were cultivated and I learned to collaborate with people who were very different from I. While I recognize that many horror stories exist about the collegiate Greek system, I remain passionate about the benefits of sorority life when it’s done “right.”

Would I have the leadership and team skills that I have today without Alpha Delta Pi and without the Association of Women Surgeons? Maybe. Would I be where I am in my career without the support of some wonderful men who focused on who I was as a student, then as a surgeon? Absolutely not. Did opportunities in these women’s-only organizations change my life for the better? No doubt, and I am absolutely certain that they helped make me into who I am today. For me, and for many women leaders in varied professions (particularly historically male professions), this idea of having a “place of our own” is critical to our professional and personal development.

This post originally appeared March 11, 2014 on Dr. Cochran's blog Life in the Wild West


Dr. Amalia Cochran is Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Utah.  She is heavily involved in undergraduate medical education, serving as the Surgery Clerkship Director and the Director for the Applied Anatomy track for 4th year medical students at the University of Utah.  Her research interests lie in surgical education and in clinical outcomes in burns.  She is completing her term as Vice President for the Association of Women Surgeons.