Veteran surgeons offer success strategies to new ACS Fellows

When starting a new job, “you have to know what you’re signing up for, and that’s one of the biggest reasons why people have these mismatched expectations,” said Hasan B. Alam, MD, FACS, Norman Thompson Professor of Surgery and section head, section of general surgery, University of Michigan Hospital, Ann Arbor, in his opening remarks during Monday’s session, Initiates Program: Strategies for Success in Surgery.

When it comes to compensation for a new job, Dr. Alam believes that “you should get fair compensation for fair work,” but warns that “a bad job with a good salary is still a bad job.” Negotiation and research are key to avoiding conflict between the new surgeon and the institution. “Do your homework,” he emphasized during his presentation, What Do My Senior Partners Expect of Me?

New Fellows and employers may see success differently. “If your personal goals for the next few years don’t align with the institutional goals or what they’re trying to achieve, don’t take that job,” Dr. Alam advised. He also said Initiates should be careful about what they ask for during negotiations, “but also realize there’s an expectation. … They’ve invested in your future, not in your present.”

“We work hard, but I think it’s a privilege to work hard,” Dr. Alam said. “Surround yourself with people who are more successful than you; you will never regret it.” He also encouraged Initiates to challenge themselves and not “cruise” through their career. “If every Monday looks like the Monday before, it’s time to self-reflect and say, ‘What can I be doing differently?’,” he said.

Jamie Jones Coleman, MD, FACS, who presented the session’s second lecture, Top Ten Tips and Tricks From a (Relatively) Junior Surgeon, said, “You don’t always know where you’re going to end up, but trying to take the right steps in line with who you are and what your mission is will lead you to the right place.”

A new Initiate should not show up to prove a point, but to prove himself or herself worthy of the position, she added. This also means being confident enough to ask questions. “Confidence does not mean you always know what to do, but confidence means you know what you’re doing, which means you know when to ask for help,” said Dr. Coleman, trauma and acute care surgeon, Denver Health, CO, and associate professor of surgery, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver.

Dr. Coleman also suggested that a new Fellow find the “unlabeled leaders,” as these are the people to partner with, and figure out how you can be a part of the culture, “how you can impact it, and how you can change it. Because until you know the culture of the place, you’re not going to be able to effectively make a change.”

Setting a personal pace and “trying on lots of shoes” are important steps for a new Initiate, but it’s not necessary to try on every shoe, Dr. Coleman said. “Think about what you’re good at, who you are, and where you get your passion from,” she said.

Dr. Coleman’s final point focused on criticism and how accepting it will make a better overall surgeon. “If there’s anything I can get you guys to leave here today with, it’s being able to accept criticism—to sit and look at yourself and say, ‘Can I do better?’ Because if you can do that, you’re going to be better.”

Gregory D. Kennedy, MD, PhD, FACS, professor and director, division of gastrointestinal surgery, and the John H. Blue Chair of General Surgery, University of Alabama at Birmingham, said that “rather than prioritizing your schedule, think about scheduling your priorities.” Dr. Kennedy’s presentation, My Head Is Spinning! Organizational Tips and Tricks for Your New Role, focused on making the most of the time given in a new position.

“Success is actually a personal definition, and it changes over time,” Dr. Kennedy said. Often, others define success for new Fellows, and when this happens, you’ll find that “you can be successful and not really have success.” Similar to Dr. Coleman’s point about pacing yourself, Dr. Kennedy said, “Don’t just start running the race, or if you start running it, take the time to ask, ‘Am I running the right race, and am I running the race well?’” Don’t say ‘yes’ simply to satisfy others. “Understand yourself and what’s important to you,” he said.

Dr. Kennedy closed with five time-management key words—research, refocus, remove, reprioritize, and remember—that will help new Fellows find success in their field. Research by asking, “What do I want to accomplish?” Refocus by “figuring out what’s important to you.” Remove “things you do that waste your time.” Reprioritize by putting “first things first,” and remember to “own your time,” he said.