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Day in the Life of a Resident & Core Attributes: Orthopaedic Surgery

Residency Application Specialists

Whilst you’ll have spent time learning about the profession and should have had the chance to undertake an orthopaedic surgery rotation or elective, it’s still beneficial to consider what the average day in the life of a resident is truly like, and what attributes are core for those looking to progress in this area of Medicine.

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Day in the Life of an Orthopaedic Surgery Resident

A typical day for an orthopaedic surgery resident starts early – expect a start as early as 5am for rounds, whilst others might enjoy the (relative) luxury of waking up as late as 5.30am in order to be at the hospital for a 6 or even 6.30am start. No matter where your program is, and which year you’re in of the Residency, early starts are to be expected.

Upon arrival at the hospital you might either be rounding patients or undertaking educational activities – one resident explains that they have an hour of education every morning from 6.30 until 7.30 AM, which consists of lectures from residents, faculty presentations, or article reviews.

Attendings generally don’t start their day until 7.30, which is part of the reason that time before then can be dedicated to learning. At 7.30, expect to move to the OR to start cases. The type of cases that you see, and the structure of your day, will of course vary significantly from year-to-year and from program to program. Expect to enjoy greater freedom as you move through the process, with less time spent on call or dealing with ER cases, and more time dedicated to parts of the specialty that you are truly interested in. The first two years are likely to see you spending much more time writing up cases and carrying out consults in the ER compared to the latter part of the program.

Expect most of the day to be made up of operations after 7.30, with the attendings now present. After working through this, you’ll update your patient list at the end of the day and discuss / hand-over to the on-call resident for the night. First and second years are likely to spend more time juggling different responsibilities, whilst third years and onwards are more able to dedicate their time to the OR.

Typical responsibilities for a second year in the OR would include helping prepare and drape the patient, assisting the attending with the case, writing postoperative orders, and checking the patient’s course post-op. Cases will be relatively broad.

Remember that you’ll spend some time teaching medical students as well, which may be significantly more or less intense at different points of the year depending on the scheduling of the university or universities attached to the hospital.

A PGY4, for example, might be able to select to spend time outside of the hospital in a specific area – like focusing on sports, for example. Expect to have much more independence by this point, and certainly as you move into the fifth year. Nonetheless, education will still begin at 6.30am, just as it has throughout the program prior to the final years. 

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Core Attributes

As can be readily understood from the typical day of an orthopaedic resident, core attributes required to succeed – and that you must be ready to demonstrate at interview – will include resilience, organisation, and teamworking. This is a residency that is highly competitive, and that therefore demands the most of those that successfully match into it – you must be prepared to overcome obstacles and adversity as and when they arise. No one will be able to succeed with 5am starts and a heavy caseload, plus required educational undertakings, plus administrative tasks, unless they are on top of their personal organisation. Reflect on how you’ve handled this at medical school, and which rotations have best prepared you for this level of time management. Teamworking is core, with that encompassing how you interact with seniors (attendings and older residents), your peers, other healthcare professionals (especially nurses and nurse practitioners in the OR) and the medical students that you will be expected to teach and help.

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