Ask the Program Directors Education

Ask the Program Directors: Paul Wise, MD

Choosing a residency program can be a challenging decision. Luckily, the residency program directors in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine are here to help answer some frequently asked questions about their programs.

Paul Wise, MD, Professor of Colorectal Surgery, serves as Director of the General Surgery Residency program. Wise attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and completed his categorical and research residencies at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He completed the Colon and Rectal Surgery Fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in 2004 and joined the Department of Surgery faculty in 2005.[MW1] 

One of the top surgical residency programs in the United States, the General Surgery Residency program at Washington University School of Medicine trains the next generation of leaders in academic surgery. The program is home to internationally renowned faculty that provide extensive clinical training and plentiful research opportunities as well as hands-on simulation experience through the Washington University Institute for Surgical Education. Trainees are granted flexibility and personalization during their time in residency to create individualized experiences that works best for them and their future. General Surgery residents train in a variety of venues including Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Christian Hospital, and more satellite facilities in the St. Louis metropolitan area and beyond.

What do you like most about being at WashU?

The collegiality of the people at all levels. The Midwest stereotype is real.

How do you feel residents grow during their time in the General Surgery Residency program? What makes you the most proud?

They mature into amazing surgeons and academic leaders. It makes me the most proud to see our residents become independent chief residents. I love it when residents take the skills they gain in our program in all realms (patient care, research and teaching) and have them go on to set the bar in academic and community training programs.

What are the strengths of the General Surgery Residency program?

The fantastic residents, students, fellows, staff and faculty. To be around such kind, brilliant and accomplished individuals every day helps to keep me sharp and engaged and elevates the experience of all the members of our institutions. To have this in the setting of the great city of St. Louis with the resources of the Department of Surgery, one of the largest, busiest and top-rated hospitals in Barnes-Jewish, and one of the top-rated medical schools in Washington University School of Medicine is almost impossible to beat.

How do you support resident research?

The residents have the opportunity to take one to three years of professional development time during their residency for basic science, translational, outcomes and/or clinical research. This time is routinely covered via grants, including T32s or departmental funds, and many of the residents get advanced degrees during that time, including master’s degrees and PhDs. Many residents start working on their academic productivity and grant applications in their first two clinical years before starting this formal research period. We support the residents in presenting at meetings to showcase their successes.

How do you support resident wellness?

The Wellness Center is open 24/7/365 for all Department of Surgery trainees.

The Graduate Medical Education Consortium at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital has fantastic support and resources for wellness for residents, including two full-time psychologists for trainees only as well as a great employee assistance program. We have a department-only, 24/7 Wellness Center with treadmills, free weights and a Peloton exercise bike. Our General Surgery resident-only lounges are stocked with healthy snacks.

Additionally, we have Department-supported social and after-hours events, an resident retreat focused on program improvements and team-building, as well as mentorship “families” built in to support trainees at all levels. The Department also sponsors resident-only tickets to St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues games (including playoff tickets) and the Broadway series at the Fabulous Fox Theater (including Hamilton).

Our residents are actively involved in program committees and a resident advisory council to help shape the program in addition to weekly class meetings to help inform any needed rotation changes in real time (as opposed to only at the end of the year based on rotation evaluations).

We support flexibility in training to allow residents to design their training and get what they want out of residency.

How do you promote an inclusive culture?

We take a holistic approach to recruitment to ensure we maintain a diverse residency to reflect our diverse patient population in St. Louis. Our women faculty support mentorship events for women trainees and have held at least three in the last year despite the pandemic.

Washington University School of Medicine is the only institution in the Midwest involved in the Provider Awareness and Cultural Dexterity Toolkit for Surgeons trial, a curriculum to strengthen surgical residents’ cross-cultural knowledge, attitudes, and skills surrounding the care of patients from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as clinical and patient-reported health outcomes for patients treated by surgical residents.

The Department has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force including the Chair, Department leaders, faculty and trainees focused on positively impacting diversity in the staff, patients, and all members of the Department.

The Department has expanded patient care into resource-limited areas of our region, including North County and throughout disadvantaged areas in our region through the Division of Public Health Sciences. The Department and Barnes-Jewish Hospital supports pipeline efforts to educate high school and college youth interested in medical careers, including exposure in our Washington University Institute for Surgical Education simulation lab. We host an annual diversity sub-internship to continue to broaden trainee diversity, and we participate in WashU’s Residents’ Showcase Program focused on URM applicants to all residencies. The Department financially supports advocacy groups such as the Society of Black Academic Surgeons, Latino Medical Student Association, Association of Women Surgeons, and others that focus on those underrepresented in surgery. 

What do your graduates do after training?

The vast majority go on to fellowships in a great breadth of subspecialties, underscored on our graduates’ page. Most of our trainees land in academic practices, but a number have gone on to very successful community practices as well.

As Program Director, how do you mentor and supports residents, personally and professionally?


Baddr Shakhsheer, MD, and Jacob Miller, MD, and some of our General Surgery residents recently participated in a kickball game at Tower Grove Park. This was a great opportunity to foster camaraderie and spend time socializing outside of the hospital environment.

I meet one-on-one with the residents at least annually, but I meet with many of them more frequently than that to facilitate professional development and fellowship/career decisions. I am present and available during our academic Wednesdays to allow for more informal interactions that can lead to mentorship discussions. I encourage faculty and resident interactions through supporting after hours and social events as well as the APD teams and mentorship family system to maintain a supportive environment. 

My wife, Anne, and I frequently host residency events at our home to facilitate getting to know the residents and their families more informally. I encourage patience and collegiality, and I love being in the sanctuary of the operating room with the residents getting to teach one-on-one.   

What do you like about St. Louis? How have you made it your home?

We have loved St. Louis since moving back in 2012 and raising our two children in this very family-friendly town. I love the sports (St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and soon our own Major League Soccer team), art (St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Muny, The Fabulous Fox Theater, Repertory Theater of St. Louis, numerous museums, etc.), and amazing food scene in a very affordable city where many residents own homes – few top training programs can say this. I hate traffic and this town is great if you hate traffic!

What is your motto you tell residents?

I’m not sure I have a true motto, but the residents hear me say many legendary (in my opinion) comments in the operating room…  But, when preaching patience, especially in the face of adversity, they frequently hear me say, “We’re closer to the end than we were at the beginning.”

What advice do you have for applicants?

Be true to you and your interests, be honest, do your homework, be prepared, and seek advice from as many mentors and people you trust as possible.

How do you help prepare applicants for residency?

We have a two-week boot camp prior to starting residency to get to know their new program, the city, the hospital, their classmates, their faculty and to prepare them mentally for the huge step of being an MD + 1 day: that momentous start to intern year!

For learn more about the General Surgery Residency Program, learn how to apply, and more, contact Christa Donald, Senior Residency Coordinator.