How to be a Successful Otolaryngology Resident

The transition from medical school to residency is such an exciting yet nerve-wrecking time. It’s an upgrade, a taste of autonomy that is, quite frankly, terrifying. I am currently a third year otolaryngology resident at University of Michigan and I thrived during my clinical years in medical school because I easily established rapport with patients, gave comprehensive oral presentations, and practiced suturing and knot-tying with surgical gloves on. However, I worried about how I would continue to excel clinically while taking on the countless responsibilities of an otolaryngology resident. Many of you may have similar concerns, or others, and I want you to know that you are not alone. In an effort to create a tip sheet for incoming otolaryngology residents, Drs. Carrie Francis, Lamont Jones, Minka Schofield, and Rodney Taylor shared their expertise on how to be a successful otolaryngology resident!

Dr. Carrie Francis is a pediatric otolaryngologist, associate professor, assistant dean for student affairs, and the chair of admissions for the office of student affairs at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. She identified emotional intelligence, goal setting, self-knowledge, dependability, admitting and learning from your mistakes, refining your knowledge in the operating room, and daily reflection as her recipe for success. “It [emotional intelligence] is the core of what makes a good resident, faculty, and fellow. Being able to recognize our environment, being aware of our emotions and those around us.” She went on to explain that the goals you set for yourself may be parallel or contrary to the external goals set upon you in residency, but they will help you mature. Be dependable early on because people need to know if they can rely on you. However, no one is perfect and you are going to make mistakes in the process of patient care; it’s not just honesty about your mistakes, but true accountability.

“Residency is difficult. There are times when it may feel overwhelming. There are times when there may be impostor syndrome or other elements you don’t feel that you are doing your best or that you have done your best. It is important to recognize and appreciate how far you’ve come and what you have accomplished.”

Dr. Carrie Francis, MD

Dr. Lamont R. Jones is a facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, vice chair and director of the cleft and craniofacial Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital, and serves as the Otolaryngology Service Chief at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. He believes you have to hustle hard during residency in order to accomplish your goals. He was a father during his residency training and recalls waking up nearly an hour early to cook his children a hot breakfast. I am a single mother to a nine-year old boy and I can entirely relate to the hustle required in residency and the sacrifices you need to make as a parent. A strong support network is essential if you are a single or married parent or plan to have children in residency.

“When you’re passionate in what you do, it will show and people will know. Hustle hard. It is a universal state of mind.”

Dr. Lamont Jones, MD

Dr. Minka Schofield is a general otolaryngologist, division chief of general otolaryngology, chief of staff at University Hospitals, and co-chair of The Ohio State University College of Medicine admissions committee. She explained that the key to success is to be confident and know your self-worth. Impostor syndrome is real and can be damaging to your performance as a resident. Maybe you did not do well on ‘x’ or you are the first doctor in your family, whatever your reason is for feeling inadequate, you deserve everything you have achieved, including your residency position. She also listed effective communication, never making excuses, being observant and absorbing every piece of knowledge presented, and being open to feedback as tools for success.

“The first thing is knowing that you deserve that [residency] spot and that you add value to your program. Be unafraid to know that you are capable.”

Dr. Minka Schofield, MD

Dr. Rodney Taylor is a head and neck cancer surgeon and the chair of University of Maryland’s Department of Otolaryngology. He charged residents to take criticism and praise with the same grace, to protect their self-confidence, to manage their time well, and to have fun. You should be open to feedback, but receive it with an even keel; do not be too high or too low. Self-confidence is your mindset and it sets the tone in your training. It impacts how you prepare for cases and how you step into the operating room. “You will make mistakes during residency and your confidence will allow you to bounce back,” he reassures. In terms of time management, take time to set your priorities and revisit them because they will help to frame how you spend your time. “Residency is hard, so learn how to have fun even when things are mundane or difficult. Do not wait until you go home to have fun.”

“Take criticism and praise with the same grace. … Be open to the feedback and extract the essence of the critique.”

Dr. Rodney Taylor, MD

I hope you feel as inspired as I do to be the best otolaryngology resident you can be after hearing the powerful yet practical tips from our attendings. As a non-traditional applicant to otolaryngology and current third year resident, I had to learn some of these tips the hard way. I cried at the thought of not becoming an otolaryngologist when I heard concerns from leadership about my success in the match. I encourage you to believe in yourself, work (really) hard, and take a seat at the table and speak up because you belong there no matter if these professional spaces feel uninviting or if you have convinced yourself that you do not deserve to be there. You deserve to be there. Remember, have emotional intelligence, be dependable, be passionate, be a hustler, know your self-worth, communicate effectively, be open to all types of feedback, own and learn from your mistakes, and have fun!


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