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"Surgery, the treatment of disease by operation, is often definitive therapy — many times curative — for a broad range of conditions affecting all organ systems. The general surgeon treats diseases of the entire body, from the skin to the blood vessels, to the liver, and beyond. The surgical subspecialties focus on specific body regions, that is, cardiothoracic surgeon address problems of the heart, lungs, and other organs within the thorax (chest), whereas other specialties focus on certain body systems or patient populations, that is, vascular surgeons operate on arteries and veins and pediatric surgeons operate primarily on infants and children. No matter the subspecialty, surgeons are knowledgeable in critical care, and often care for their own critically ill patients in the ICU.”

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 223.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Students can participate in clinical shadowing with attending surgeons. The process is simple: Pick a surgeon who practices in an area that interests you, and email the surgeon and ask if there are opportunities to shadow. When there is an opportunity, be prompt and show interest when you are with the surgeon. If you find you want to work further in the area, ask the for available clinical or research projects to participate in. Students can join the surgery interest group, the Loyal Davis Surgical Society. The group offers several insightful activities that are both educational and fun. Students can also reach out to surgery residents, as they can provide valuable information about available research opportunities with faculty surgeons.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

Research is important but not essential. A completed project separates good applications from strong applications. Having a CV that shows completed research projects indicate to the reader important personal traits including enthusiasm, dedication, perseverance, dependability and the ability to see things through.

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

It is important for all M4 students to obtain well-rounded clinical experiences prior to their graduation regardless of their chosen specialty. For those interested in surgery, we recommend a rotation as a surgery sub-I and an additional surgical elective that interests you. Non-surgical rotations that balance your education include family medicine and/or internal medicine, emergency medicine and critical care.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

Away or “audition” rotations are not necessary but might be desirable if you trust your ability to shine. They can backfire as well as help. Define your goals for choosing a specific specialty or a specific program. Discuss your choice with your mentor and Dr. Issa, the surgery career adviser, to help you get the best of these rotations.

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

Depending on your goals for the away rotations, we recommend up to two away rotations.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

It depends on your goals for the away rotations. Your mentor and Dr Issa can direct you to choose the appropriate timing for the away rotations. Generally, they should be completed before the end of January.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

November and December.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

Programs expect recommendation letters written by surgeons, regardless of their surgical specialty. Letters from other professionals are welcome; see below.

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

Recommendation letters from other medical professionals are welcome if they provide helpful insights for your character and professional traits, such as those written by clinical or research mentors and school chair.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

Rank is not as important as actually knowing the individual writing the letter. That said, older surgeons know more people and more people know them.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?


 Surgery Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend specialty sessions sponsored by the Department of Surgery to learn more about the specialty and to meet attendings and residents in the field.

View the 2013 Surgical Specialty Session powerpoint presentation.

For More Information

Department of Surgery
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
251 E. Huron
Chicago, IL 60611-2923
Phone: 312-926-8060