Life of a Resident & Core Attributes: Plastic Surgery

Residency Application Specialists

Plastic surgery is an incredibly competitive specialty, with plastic surgeons referring to themselves as the ‘surgeons’ surgeons.’ In order to succeed here you will need incredible resilience, overcoming long hours and complex learning. Here we’ll take a brief look at what plastic surgery residencies are actually like, and then consider the attributes that you will need to stand out.

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Life of a Plastic Surgery Resident

The first thing to remember is that your first year will be the surgical internship. This first year is often considered to be the most intense, as you learn fundamental surgical techniques and the basics of how to manage patients. Instead of plastic surgery, the majority of your time here will actually be spent across general surgery – but you will also potentially spend time in other specialties that overlap, including anaesthesia, orthopaedics, emergency medicine or even ENT. The first year is your chance to establish a solid foundation, on which you will then build your specialist knowledge. Because of this, it’s often seen as the most rewarding year, as well as the most challenging – you go from being a medical student to being able to see yourself as a surgeon in the space of just one year. Whilst the hours are long, you will be rewarded with deep knowledge.

Remember that you can also use this time to build valuable connections with others across the hospital. You will work alongside residents from different specialties, and being able to call upon them in times of need in the future could be helpful – equally, having connections with attendings in those specialties could prove to be of real use in future. In particular, make sure that you spend as much time as possible (and devote as much attention as possible) to those working in the ER and all the residents and attendings that you encounter from anaesthesia.

Your junior residency years will be variable, and the structure depends a lot on the program that you are part of. However, you will now expect to shift to plastic surgery after two years, or possibly after only one. That said, the second year post medical school will still be difficult. You’ll now be seeing consults, and have greater independence when managing patients. Additionally, expect to be able to do more in the OR, down to actually undertaking parts of operations yourself. You are likely to be taking plastics calls alone, and will therefore feel much more like a true specialist than you did in the year before. Junior residency sees you transition now from the basics of surgery towards being able to operate alone.

As a senior resident, you are likely to be operating every day. You will be largely responsible for the smooth running of the service, and able to lead in more complex cases. This is your time to focus on areas that you find to be of particular interest, and ensure that your knowledge and practical ability are broad and deep enough that you will be ready to face any challenges upon completion.

On calls are likely to be once to twice a week, with two weekends per month. This makes the on-calls relatively more difficult in plastic surgery than elsewhere, and they will continue from PGY1 through to PGY4. Even in the senior resident years you will still be facing 1-2 days per week and one weekend per month.

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Core Attributes of Plastic Surgery Residents

Plastic surgery involves both technical diversity and great resilience. You must be able to show that you have considered the difficulties of the career, and that you are willing to go above and beyond in order to excel. Plastic surgeons are frequently innovators, ready to embrace new techniques and processes, so reflect on how you learn and evolve, and how you will be ready to drive change in time. Ensure that you can display resilience and show a true ability to combat stress – long hours and on-calls, with general surgery at the start of the residency, mean that this is a challenging path.

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