The AWS Student Committee is thrilled to announce the addition of
our student column of articles geared toward our Medical Student
Members, led by committee members Melanie Subramanian, Gloria Sue,
Mahvesh Javaid, and Katie Engeln. Just in time for the season, we
are featuring a helpful guide on the residency interview, based on
polling our rich database of academic surgeons and residents in the
AWS community. Additionally, we are sharing personal interviews from
three unique sources: one US-based surgeon, one international
Ginger Slack, Chair of the AWS Student Committee
Join the conversation on
this issue. . .
Surgical Residency Interview Process: Advice From AWS Attendings and
Residents for the Female Applicant
By Gloria R. Sue, MA
AWS Student Committee Member
The residency interview process can seem like a daunting experience
to rising fourth-year medical students. To help alleviate some of
these qualms the AWS Student Committee conducted a survey of AWS
attending surgeon and resident members, soliciting advice on the
interview process with particular consideration of matters of
interest to female applicants. We received an overwhelming amount of
survey responses from all across the country, with 69 completed
surveys from attending surgeons and 13 from residents.
surveys contained five open-ended questions, covering areas such as
attending surgeon specialty, hair and suit preferences for female
applicants, and general interview tips. Among the surveys completed
by attending surgeons, 60 (87.0%) were completed by surgeons who
conduct interviews for general surgery residency programs, four
(5.8%) were completed by surgeons who interview for plastic surgery
residency programs, and five (7.2%) were completed by surgeons
interviewing in a variety of other surgical subspecialty fields.
Regarding whether an applicant with long hair should
put her hair up or leave her hair down for the interview, the vast
majority of surgeons gave a response similar to "it does not matter,
as long as the hair is neat," though five (7.2%) recommended that
the applicant wear her hair up to remove a potential distraction of
having "hair falling down around the face" or "being fiddled with."
Regarding whether a female applicant should wear a skirt suit or a
pant suit to the interview, again the vast majority replied along
the lines of "it does not matter, as long as the look is
professional," though three (4.3%) stated that the skirt suit was a
personal preference, while no respondent advocated for the pant suit
as a personal preference.
There was also a consensus on the types of questions
that attending surgeons felt that students should not ask of their
interviewer. The majority of respondents felt that questions along
the lines of "how much time off do we get" or "what is the call
schedule like" to be inappropriate. Some respondents also
discouraged the interviewee from asking questions about maternity
leave and resident lifestyle.
Additionally, several attending surgeons recommended that the
applicant "research the program ahead of time," "be prepared with
questions," "be honest," "make eye contact," and "participate in
mock interviews" (Table). One respondent even
pointed out that applicants should strive to be excellent as the
residency program is more or less "adopting" them.
The responses from the 13 AWS residents offer advice
from the perspective of recent interviewees. The most commonly asked
questions that the residents reported being asked were "why do you
want to go into surgery" and "why did you apply to our program."
Among the respondents, five (38.5%) reported being asked about
either marital status and/or planning for children. Other unexpected
questions encountered on the interview trail included "what are you
the most proud of," "what was your biggest mistake," and "where will
you rank us."
The vast majority of residents also felt that
optional dinners or cocktail receptions associated with the
interview day were worthwhile to attend, giving the applicants the
opportunity to determine whether they can get along with the
residents, get a feel for the culture at the program, and help
distinguish between programs.
Table. Most Commonly Offered Advice from
AWS Attending Surgeons
|"Do background research on
the residency program"
|"Be prepared with
|"Be professional in dress
|"Make eye contact"
|"Participate in mock
interviews and/or practice with others"
>> back to Winter 2012 Connections
International Road to Surgery: An interview with Dr. Anna Riemen,
BSc Hon Biochem, MbChB, MRCSEd
Registrar Trauma & Orthopaedic Surgery
Aberdeen AB15 6XS
0845 456 6000
I am currently a Speciality Registrar 3 in Trauma and Orthopaedic
Surgery. I am German and grew up there and moved to the UK for
university. I completed a BSc with Honours in Biochemistry and then
went to Dundee University Medical School. During medical school I
organized placements in T&O at Charite Hospital in Berlin and at
Denver Health in Denver, Colorado. My elective was in a very remote
hospital in Uganda on the border to Congo. I did my two foundation
doctors years in Dundee and Perth and am now in Aberdeen for my run
through Orthopaedic training. I did my MRCS at the Royal College of
Surgeons of Edinburgh and I am involved in Medical Politics through
Please let me know if you have any further questions; I would be
happy to help.
What motivated you to choose a career in surgery?
I came to medicine on a slightly unconventional route for a UK
graduate. I was convinced I would become a Biochemist and never
thought about medicine until I spent a year at Stevens Institute of
Technology. From our campus, I saw the twin towers fall. That year I
felt drawn to medicine as a way to combine research and hands-on
care. I finished my degree taking extra Anatomy classes and then
went on to study medicine at the University of Dundee skipping 1st
year. But it was only when I discovered surgery and especially
Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery during an extra summer placement I
had arranged in Berlin, Germany, that I really got hooked. My first
day in an operating room I saw the Trauma surgeons fixing this
patient who had massive life-threatening injuries from a terrible
accident. I love the immediate effect. People get better quickly, I
can positively influence their lives and even in a bad situation the
aim is to restore function and provide freedom.
How has a career in surgery met your expectations, and over the
what advances have you seen evolve for women in surgery?
I love it! I consider myself to still be in the early stages of my
career having entered my third year of T&O speciality training.
Every day I come home and feel satisfied that I have learned
something new and made a difference to one of my patients or taught
a student or foundation doctor. I even manage to squeeze in some
medical politics and a bit of research. I have not noticed any
changes for women in surgery recently but then throughout medical
school and the initial years as a doctor all the surgical attendings
have encouraged and supported me. In my training programme in
Aberdeen I feel well supported as a trainee, and as there are at
least five other girls training to become Orthopaedic surgeons here,
and we have quiet a few general surgical trainees who are women, it
What are the challenges of being a surgeon (as women and in
The biggest challenge is yourself. You have to be self-confident and
although a healthy amount of self criticism is good don't let it
take over. I have noticed women are more self-critical then male
surgeons. At the same time you have to live with and deal with your
What advice can you offer to women who wish to pursue a career in
It is a hard and long training programme and you have to be
committed right from the start. If you let yourself go, then at
least three people are in line behind you to overtake. You have to
do a lot of self study and always be prepared. It's a great career
and I would not want to do anything else.
What have you found to be beneficial, in terms of balancing
professional and family obligations?
I have been single for a long time now so maybe I am not the right
person to answer this question.
I love the time I spend in surgery and I make a point of keeping in
touch with close friends and my family via the phone and e-mail and
at least once or twice a year I fly back to Germany to visit them.
You should always have something to balance work with. I love
singing and I play the flute and clarinet when I get a spare minute.
As an Orthopaedic surgeon I need to be fit so I regularly go to the
gym and for a special treat I have some big power kites with which I
zoom along the beach.
What recommendations can you offer to women in surgery regarding
Again I have not yet had the chance to have kids but one of my
colleagues and inspiring women surgeons I have met on placements in
the USA along the way have had kids at varying stages of their
careers. It seems to me that the facilities in Scotland to be a
(trainee) surgeon and have kids are good but having family nearby
and a supportive partner certainly help, as do excellent friends.
have been the most rewarding and gratifying aspects of your surgery
I love working with my hands and the tactile feedback from what I
do. Using everything I learned to solve a problem. In Orthopaedics I
often have clear diagnoses from history and examination and it is
nice to have an x-ray or other investigation to confirm. Fixing
fractures and doing joint replacements -- seeing people walk again
is just amazing. I work with a variety of people; one moment I see a
100-year-old lady, next I might see a toddler followed by a
Why did you join AWS?
AWS is a group of fantastic surgeons and they give the
opportunity to learn from them and to experience encouragement. I
like the way they focus on education and professional support. There
is no similar alternative for women surgeons in Scotland, and
although all my bosses are encouraging I have so far only met three
female attending orthopaedic surgeons -- so it's nice to know there
What do you find being enjoyable as a member of AWS?
I love hearing about others' success stories while at the same time
getting guidance and encouragement on how to achieve the same.
Why should medical students join AWS?
Although there are more women in surgical training, still there are
few female consultants surgeons. It helps to have role models and
mentors. AWS has great educational resources and it is great to find
What do you enjoy about the annual events like the AWS
I still have to go to one. Maybe next year.
This interview was conducted by Mahvesh Rana Javaid, member of
the AWS Medical Student Committee.
>> back to Winter 2012 Connections
as a Surgeon: an Interview with Dr. Nancy Gantt on her experiences
in training for surgery, managing a successful career, and striking
a work-life balance
Nancy Gantt is Professor of Surgery at Northeastern Ohio Medical
University and the Curriculum Director of M3 surgical clerkships.
She is general surgeon at St. Elizabeth's Health Center in
Youngstown, Ohio and the current vice president of AWS. Her medical
areas of interest include breast surgery and surgical education, and
she is passionate about AWS and mentoring young women who are
initiating their careers in surgery. Her interview for AWStudent
offers insight into her pathway to surgery and advice for budding
How did you decide on a career in medicine?
Loving animals; I originally wanted to be a veterinarian. I grew up
in Illinois and went to the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. I ended up being allergic to cats, which put a
stop to my career aspirations of being a veterinarian. However, I
loved biology and I admired the people I knew in medicine so I
decided to apply to medical school. I didn't have much financial
support to go to college, which required lots of loans and jobs, and
also prevented me from doing much research. I attended the
University Of Chicago Pritzker School Of Medicine.
When did you know you wanted to do surgery? What inspired you?
I started out interested in family medicine. I thought it was a
great career where you have the ability to forge long-term
relationships with your patients. I also relished the idea of caring
for all age groups -- from children to senior citizens. However, I
have to say that the surgeons at Pritzker were just truly dynamic
and inspiring role models. I loved the problem-solving aspect of
surgery, and the ability to work with your hands. I still remember
observing Dr. Wolfgang Schraut explaining to a Crohn's disease
patient about the process of the laparotomy that he was going to
perform -- what would stay in, what would be cut out...it was all
just very inspiring. I was intrigued by thoracic surgery and
transplant surgery, and eventually was accepted to University of
Pittsburgh's surgical residency program.
Were there other women in medical school who had similar
aspirations to go into surgery?
There were a surprisingly large number of women who ended up
matching in surgical residency programs, but I didn't really find
out about their interest until Match Day. There was a Women in
Medicine group when I was in medical school, which provided
What was residency like?
It was rigorous. Here's some advice -- if you want to do something,
don't go to the world's busiest place for it. There was a liver
transplant being conducted every 16 hours, but the opportunity for a
resident to get a lot of hands-on involvement in the transplant
procedures was slim due to the incredible amount of competition and
number of patients on the service in need of care. Also, the
lifestyle at that time was just crazy and I needed more balance. I
eventually became interested in all of general surgery. I also
really fell in love with breast surgery. It just felt truly amazing
to work with women admitted for a mastectomy. There were few women
surgeons back then, and it was always a gratifying experience to
talk to patients before and after their surgery, and really support
them. You really got to know them, and they were wonderful to care
What was your residency experience like as a woman?
It was pretty crazy. They accepted five Categorical residents a year
and usually only one was a woman. Fortunately, the Chair of surgery,
Dr. Henry Bahnson, was fantastic. He was completely gender-blind,
yet very old school. He just trained you to be a skilled surgeon, no
matter who you were. He never gave you any indication that you
couldn't do what you wanted to do because you were a woman. There
were plenty of women who left there as cardiothoracic and plastic
How would you characterize your career now?
It has been fantastic. I became engaged to my husband (an orthopedic
resident at the time) during the lab year of my residency. I wanted
to go back to Chicago, but he wanted to move back to his hometown of
Youngstown, Ohio, where they had only one young orthopedic surgeon
at the time. I went into solo practice and taught medical students
from Northeast Ohio Medical University. I had plenty of
responsibilities, from managing the SICU to trauma call. I also
became the surgical clerkship director, and served in that position
for 20 years. I truly love my work developing curriculum and
educating students. I have been advanced to full Professorship based
primarily on my educational work. I haven't been as involved in
clinical research, but that is currently being ramped up so the
Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Health
Care Center (of which I am co-director) can be accredited and offer
clinical trial participation to our patients.
Have you faced any challenges balancing your personal and
With all of my responsibilities, it has been challenging. I realized
that I needed to slow down when I was pregnant with my first child.
I went into pre-term labor at 19 weeks, and that was a changing
point for me. Professionally, I focused more on breast surgery,
which made my schedule a bit more predictable. In 2006 I was
diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. That was another wake-up call.
My diagnosis did give me a new tool to relate to my breast surgery
patients. It is nice how I can comfort them with my own experiences
on dealing with breast cancer and connect with them on a new level.
I eventually switched from solo private practice to being employed
by the health system. The transition was good. For example, I went
from having an $85,000 bid for malpractice to not having to worry
What would you say are the most rewarding features of being a
member of AWS?
I would say the mentorship. AWS provides mentorship for women at
every stage in their career. I really regret not seeking out more
mentors early on. AWS is just a fantastic source of support.
Everybody has everyone else's back. If you want to succeed, you need
to have approachable people you can talk to. AWS has these people.
And the women of AWS can help you with more things than just
networking. They can help with life issues too. They are just
What advice would you give to women who are just beginning their
Choose your partner very carefully. It is better
to be alone than to be in a bad relationship. Be with someone
who is supportive and thinks that what you do is very cool. My
husband still thinks I look cute in scrubs!
Make time for your family. You need to pay
attention to your parents and your children at all the stages of
their lives. Cherish your friends and nurture your friendships.
If you will not make time for yourself, you will
not stay healthy. Eat well and exercise.
Only say "yes" to the activities that you value
or to the tasks that you think will significantly promote your
career. Learn to say "no" to requests that don't.
Find mentors for all aspects of your life --
professional and personal.
Keep your hobbies and your passions. I love
gardening, cooking, and reading for my book club.
Earn enough money to pay for chores you don't
want to do, like cleaning your house, so that you have quality
time to do what you want to do.
This interview was conducted by Melanie
Subramanian, a second year medical student at Harvard Medical
School. For any questions, please
>> back to Winter 2012 Connections
Inspiration, Mentorship, and Managing Life as a Resident: An
Interview with Prathima Nandivada
General Surgery Resident and Research Fellow
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA
motivated you to choose a career in surgery?
What I think motivates most people to go into any field is the
mentors that they have, and I think a big reason why I chose to go
into surgery was being inspired by the mentors around me, both men
and women. Early on in medical school, I just had a couple of
mentors that exemplified what it meant to be a physician -- they
could take care of any problem, were great teachers and great
leaders, and I essentially just wanted to be like them, and so I
decided to pursue a career in surgery, and it's been a fantastic
What do you find enjoyable about being a member of AWS?
I've been a member of the AWS since I was a medical student. And the
things I love most about coming to these conferences is meeting
women in every stage of their career who are thriving and seeing how
they are accomplishing their goals. It's extremely motivating and
inspiring to see that. And I think the other side of it is the
tremendous opportunity to meet mentors. I've had opportunities to
plan these meetings, get involved in programs at my own residency,
and I think it gives you a small network of people that you can get
to know well and really learn from.
You've spoken about the importance of finding a mentor. How would
you advise students on how to find a good mentor?
The key to finding a good mentor is putting yourself out there. It
can't be overemphasized how important it is to get involved with
societies, get involved with networks within your own hospital, and
then get involved with national societies where you get to meet with
people all over the country. The goal of finding your mentor is
finding someone you really resonate with. And the likelihood you are
going to find someone like that is related to how much you go out
there and meet people. So I think it's certainly great when your
residency has built in programs to help you find mentors in your own
institution, but the second step is really taking your own
initiative to contact people. I have never run into a situation
where I have e-mailed someone and asked for help and haven't
received at least some direction. So I think it's about making
What have you found to be beneficial in terms of balancing your
professional and relationship/family life?
Being a woman in surgery comes with its set of unique challenges. I
think that's part of what I've benefited most from being in AWS is
talking to women who have been through these challenges before I
have and gaining from their insights. It is certainly possible to
have a personal life and be a female surgeon. I have been married
for two years, so I'm still a newbie, but I think the key for our
relationship and for most that I have seen be successful is
communication and honesty. I think if you really make clear what
your commitments to work are and where you are flexible, it makes
your partner have reasonable expectations about what they can get
from you. I think the second part is really when you're home and
you've decided to be home, be home. Put the work away. Letting the
people in your life, whether it's a spouse, family member, or
friends, know that they're important to you, even if your time is
limited, is making the time count. Certainly discuss your career
choices with your partners, friends, and family so that they are
aware of why you are choosing what you are choosing, why it's
important to you, and how it's going to affect them, because it
What do you enjoy about going to national conferences like the
Getting involved in national conferences is critical to succeeding
in academic medicine. Not only because it's a great opportunity to
learn about the scientific advances but because it's an opportunity
to meet people who are doing what you are doing and doing it well.
The AWS is a great network among the national networks because it
also narrows it down to women who are doing well what you are doing.
So I think it's important for medical students and residents to come
to these meetings to see the possibilities, the range of careers
that you can have, and find people who will help you achieve that.
It's important to get the broad perspective. If you just stay at
your own institution you will only see things one way. So get out
there, go to the meetings, meet people, and enrich your minds with
all the possibilities!
This interview was conducted at the AWS National Conference in
Chicago, Illinois on September 30, 2012 by Ginger Slack, 4th year
Medical Student at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. This
document is a transcript with the exception of editing for grammar.
>> back to Winter 2012 Connections