“Wise Words”

Seemingly every aspect of 2020 has been unexpected. From the personal sacrifices to clinical challenges, from shut-downs to a virtual graduation ceremony, from virtual and socially-distanced intern orientation to virtual education conferences, simulation labs and assessments, this year has altered every aspect of surgical education. We are incredibly and sincerely thankful for everyone who has gone the extra mile to maintain the level of excellence expected from the General Surgery Residency training program while navigating the challenges of a COVID-19 world.

One of the changes that came with the implementation of the pandemic safety measures was moving our Wednesday morning General Surgery Education Conferences to a virtual platform. Through the power of Zoom and the incredible efforts of our Curriculum Committee (especially the resident Chairs Eileen Smith, Katharine Caldwell, and Britta Han), we began holding M&M, our didactic sessions and even Citywide mock orals sessions (with SLU) via video conferencing. Thanks also to the Committee and our AV residents, Annie Hess and Alston James, we have had very few technical hiccups along the way. This change in format did more than help to protect our faculty and house staff – it has offered a new level of flexibility for attendees. More faculty than ever have been able to reliably attend conference, and the residents rotating away from BJH are more easily able to tune in from their rotation site without the commute. The conferences are also recorded and made available to anyone who may have missed them, giving residents who are post-call or in the midst of an emergency an option to view the didactics at a later time and still receive attendance credit.

Another challenge of COVID-era education has been continuing simulation lab training for our residents in the WISE Lab (The Washington University Institute of Surgical Education). We are incredibly thankful for everyone on the Curriculum Committee as well as those at the WISE Lab, including Peggy Frisella, Angie DeClue, Karen Schubert, and the Director, Dr. Michael Awad, for their efforts to keep our trainees safe while still organizing and delivering exemplary simulation experiences. The WISE Lab has hosted virtual skills lessons and assessments for our interns and smaller, safer resident groups in the lab. They have found creative solutions to the cadaver shortage, which have enabled them to continue to offer educational experiences of the same caliber, even amidst the pandemic challenges. All of us in the Department of Surgery are thankful for the team in the WISE Lab and their continuing hard work and commitment to educational excellence.

As you can tell, the General Surgery Residency Curriculum Committee has put in a tremendous amount of hard (and creative!) work to accommodate the changes that 2020 has forced upon us. The residents, faculty, and staff have put forth extra effort this year to overcome the multitude of obstacles we have faced, all while keeping the experiences engaging, useful, and relevant. They have worked to navigate the continuously changing guidelines, program requirements, and curriculum needs in order to deliver the highest quality education that we have all come to expect as the standard in the Washington University General Surgery Residency.

As you are reading this, the General Surgery Residency is in the midst of recruitment season during our biggest COVID surge yet.  To make sure that we were on the “radar” of the General Surgery applicants this year, in August and September we hosted three very well-attended virtual “town halls” with many of our faculty, alumni and residents (and their spouses/sig-Os) educating the applicants about our amazing training program. Each open house included a residents-only Q&A time, allowing potential applicants to ask open and honest questions about our program. All three events were a great success. In addition, we have created online tours and social media efforts to help the applicants better appreciate our people and our program during a time when campus tours and in-person interviews are an impossibility. Regardless, we are eagerly looking forward to meeting and interviewing potential future interns at the upcoming interview dates of December 10, January 12 & 26, and February 4 (and February 11 for our preliminary intern candidates). 

Although we are not sure what the next few months will look like as we are again seeing clinical slow-downs and trainee reassignments while eagerly anticipating the potential for the vaccine to be delivered in the coming weeks, we do know that the Department of Surgery is equipped to take on whatever uncertainty lies ahead. We are incredibly thankful to all the residents, fellows, faculty, and staff who have contributed to the continuing excellence of the General Surgery Residency Program at Washington University in the face of these unprecedented challenges.

-Dr. Paul Wise, Program Director

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