Surviving Your Surgery Rotation

wards4thEditionBy Molly Lewis

Sean gave some great tips in his previous post, A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure – Surviving Your Surgery Rotation. Follow his advice, and you will be well on your way to success on your surgery rotation. I’ve got some tips and tricks to add to help you survive your surgery rotation.

Never go anywhere without something to read
My dad instilled this habit in me years ago, but it’s especially beneficial now. Surgery rotations are extremely time intensive.

This may sound crazy, but I often read while I walked between units on rounds, on my way down to the ED to see a consult, across the street to clinic, etc. Every minute counts!

Maximize your time
By the time you get home, you often have to back in the hospital in less than 10 hours. Save that precious time for eating, sleeping, exercising, spending time with your family, etc. by studying in every spare moment while at the hospital!

I love listening to podcasts and audio books. I listen while I cook, clean, bike to the hospital, or do anything else that is more or less “mindless.”

One I especially love for the surgery rotation is Surgery 101. It’s high quality, and free – perfect! I also liked listening to the audio that comes with the older edition of Surgical Recall.

Try these, or search iTunes for other surgical podcasts!

Practice tying knots and suturing at home
At the end of cases, ask if there’re any leftover sutures or ties, or ask your residents if he or she knows of any good places to find leftovers (I found stashes of expired sutures in a couple of my hospital’s call rooms; ask before you take them, but residents don’t generally mind if take them – they are happy to see that you want to learn!).

Then buy some pig’s feet (or oranges or bananas), and have at it!

It’s a good idea to watch videos (check out YouTube) as you practice. I once accidentally taught myself incorrect techniques and was scolded in the OR.

Getting pimped in the OR
Ask students ahead of you what questions they were asked by each attending. A few of my attendings were known to ask the same questions for 20+ years, so a little networking with fellow students was much higher yield than studying an anatomy textbook!

Go back to see your patients
If you want to meaningfully experience/make a difference in a patient’s life, go back and chat for a few minutes after rounds.

Surgical rounds are often super-fast, and patients may be left bewildered. They are roused at 5:00 am and asked if they passed gas. They may or may not ever see the attending surgeon.

While it may not feel like it, med students have more free time than residents or attendings. We can be an excellent morale booster for patients by simply carving out a few minutes to answer questions or just chat, showing the patient they are a valuable human being.

Happier patients will get better faster and go home sooner, so your little conversations can benefit your team as well as your patients!


Okay, I love surgery, and I could type out tips for hours, but I’m on a surgical specialty Sub-I right now, and it’s nearing 8 PM, which means… almost time for bed!

If you have any tips for the surgery rotation you’d like to share, post them below!


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