Six Characteristics of the Best Ophthalmology Residents.

Bascom Palmer Residents, 1967

Bascom Palmer Residents, 1967

This past weekend we had our annual graduation dinner for the departing residents and fellows. While it is always sad to see great physicians leave, it inspired me to hear the stories of our superlative graduates and the impact they had on the people around them. One graduating fellow in particular received a standing ovation for his performance both as a resident and fellow at our hospital. The entire evening got me thinking: "what qualities make the best residents?" Using  examples from the dinner and our guests on the podcast , I compiled a list of six attributes of top-notch ophthalmology residents:

1. They care. First and foremost, the best residents are dedicated doctors. Even before they build their full ophthalmology knowledge base, they are always working towards the best possible outcome for every patient. As one of our residents so aptly states: “Treat every patient as you would want your mother treated”.

2. They read. Years ago when I started training, I looked up articles on how to do well in ophthalmology residency. Dr. John Kitchens once described that Dr. Ed Norton, father of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, used to read at least one ophthalmology related item every day. As a beginning ophthalmology resident, there is so much to learn and it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Every little bit counts, and reading about your patients will not only enhance your ability to handle that specific situation, but also build the base upon which your career will stand. The best residents read early and often to construct a solid foundation that they continue to cultivate their entire lives. 

3. They respect. Here is a not-so-hidden little secret: the best residents are loved not only by their patients, but also by their colleagues and support staff members. Our superlative standing ovation graduate was described as knowing and being friendly with every single person in the hospital, from the maintenance staff to the custodians to the chairman. While that is a high standard to live up to, great trainees treat every team member with respect. Remember, everyone is on the same team to deliver the best patient care. Everyone includes everyone from the moment a patient walks through the door of the building to the minute they drive their car away from the parking garage. Every single team member is equally important in the process. 

4. They communicate. Being an honest, accurate, and timely communicator goes a long way in life and in medicine. Good communication means responding to emails from your co-residents and attendings, sending letters to referring physicians, and returning patient phone messages. It also entails telling your patients when things do not go as planned in an honest but measured fashion. You learn more about a physician’s character from complications than from successes.

5. They go the extra mile. When he came on the podcast (link), Dr. Kitchens described that once, as chief fellow at Bascom Palmer, he was taking a patient to the OR towards the later part of the day and passed by a first-year resident on his way home. The resident inquired about the case and decided to stay and observe the surgery. Years later that memory still resonates with Dr. Kitchens as an example of how motivated the best residents are. Going the extra mile means treating patients as a whole, not just their eyes. It means dealing with the tough social situations, like calling insurance companies to get approval for necessary medications. 

 6. They have balance. After reading the above, you may feel that being a great resident means sacrificing the rest of your life. While residency certainly requires a great degree of work-life unbalancing, the best residents still find time to eat as well as possible, sleep, exercise, and most importantly, cultivate their relationships. As many guests have stated on the show, you can't care for others if you don't care for yourself. 

-Jay Sridhar