5 Tips to be a Successful Chief Resident

  1. Empathy
Whether serving in an academic chief role or administrative chief role, the ability to identify with and relate to your target audience is paramount. For example, although your first year of residency was ~4 years ago, I challenge you to truly put yourself back in your “junior-resident-mindset” when helping a struggling intern or giving surgical tips or closed reduction technique advice to a newer member of the team. What do you wish you knew when you first started out? In many programs, Chief Residents also serve as liaisons between the faculty/administration and the residents. In order to garner and maintain trust and respect, as well as navigate some potentially difficult situations and provide helpful solutions, empathy can serve as a helpful tool.
  1. Leading by Example
Now is not the time to check-out. Think back to when you were a junior resident. Who were your favorite Chief Residents over the years, and what traits did they have that you sought to emulate? Now is your chance. You are now the resident leader on your team, and whether you appreciate it or not, the other residents are learning from you – how you prepare for your cases, the types of questions you ask in and out of the OR, how you interact with patients in pre-op, post-op, and clinic settings. You have the privilege of setting the tempo for each team you are on this year. Take advantage of it by showcasing some of your strongest skills and leading by example.
  1. Regularly Scheduled Check-ins
Setting aside a dedicated time every few months for a Chief Resident led discussion provides a great opportunity for you and your fellow chiefs to maintain a finger on the pulse. What is the overall mindset of the residents? Are they generally happy to come to work each day? Are there specific rotations that are working very well? If so, why? Are there specific rotations that could be optimized to provide better resident education? If so, how? Scheduling organized resident-only meetings every few months can serve as an excellent way for you to gather information (especially in larger residency programs) and affect positive change in resident education and operative experience. It enables residents to talk freely, share stories, grow closer as a team, and collectively brainstorm improvements.
  1. Goals and Organization
Your Chief Year should be a great year overall. But, at times you can certainly feel like you are being pulled in many directions: Grand Rounds planning, educational conferences, studying for Boards, administrative responsibilities, logistics and scheduling, preparing for fellowship, and, of course, simply being a resident and trying to learn as much as possible in your last year of residency. As you probably know, organization is key to get the most out of the year. Now is a great time to take a few minutes, sit down, and physically write down or type up what YOU want to get out of the year. Are there specific conferences or meetings you hope to attend? Are there research projects you hope to start or finish? And, as Chief Resident, what are a few goals you have for yourself in order to leave your mark on your program and help future residents in years to come? (i.e., Do you want to start monthly check-in meetings?  Do you want to start weekly education sessions or improve on the ones you already have? Do you want to incorporate more sawbones or cadaver labs for the junior residents?)
  1. Preparing for Next Year
This last tip for being a successful Chief Resident serves as a reminder that sometimes it is OK for you and your education to come first. For most, this is the last time you will have the chance to operate alongside mentors you have established over the last 5 years. No surgery is easy, but some of your mentors certainly make it look that way. Why is that? Write it all down and don’t feel bad about asking questions. As you know by now, your mentors have developed their own specific surgical tips and tricks based on their own prior experience. Use this year to harness that experience in order to bring it with you to fellowship and your future practice. Crystalize your relationship with your current mentors. Have a few in your back pocket to call in future years when you find yourself in a bind. Talk to young attendings who recently graduated from your program and find out what they took away from residency and what else they wished to achieve during their Chief Year.