Ask the Residents

Ask The Residents: Advice to Applicants

Residents in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are part of an academic program with diverse surgical training, strong research opportunities and mentors who are national leaders in their fields.

With residency programs in General SurgeryPlastic SurgeryUrology and Vascular Surgery, residents in every specialty have access to world-class training. What makes each of these programs truly special is the community and camaraderie.

Residents in the Department of Surgery receive the highest level of support and training during their time in our residency programs. The expertise and advice provided by our attending physicians and surgeons are also integral to the development of our residents.

We asked those in the General Surgery Residency about the best advice they would give to current or future applicants to hospital residencies. Their insight and recommendations reflect their trials, successes, and learning experiences within the application process. They also emphasize how applying to programs like the General Surgery Residency is a major decision that cultivates professional and personal growth as a physician.

Seek Out Excellence and Good Energy

Jason Gauthier, MD: First make a list of programs that are good at everything, just in case you change your mind about your intended specialty. Then find the part of the country that you want to live in. These selection criteria will cut your list down a lot. Finally, if you have family or a significant other moving with you, discuss your short list with them and let them choose – no matter where you go for training, you’ll work a lot, and they have to be happy when you’re not there.

Robert MacGregor, MD: Find a place that values personal health, family, and friendships while giving you access to a diverse number of surgical subspecialties and research opportunities.

Laura Lee, MD: Find a program where the residents are genuinely happy, can speak honestly about their experience, where faculty are supported and nurtured, and where you can see yourself living for these important years.

Ariana Naaseh, MD: Choosing a program that feels right and is for all the right reasons will pay off when you are happy to be at work and to be surrounded by the people who made you laugh along the interview trail.

Brendan Heiden, MD: You are picking a program; don’t be fooled into thinking that the program is picking you!


Wahid Abu-Amer, MD: Never give up. It’s true that when one door closes, another opens. But don’t let that give you a false sense of security. Those doors don’t open without hard-work, perseverance, and some flexibility on your part. But regardless of the problem, there is always a solution.

Liu Zhiyi, MD: Advice specifically for IMGs: Never give up your dream of becoming a surgeon if you really love this specialty. Be prepared to take a harder or longer path comparing to US medical graduates. And “a thousand miles’ journey starts with one single step.”


Ioana Florea, MD: Be honest with yourself and with programs about what you want to pursue. You deserve to be at a place that understands your goals and interests and will nurture them.

Forrest Williard, MD: Come up with a list of characteristics that are important to you, and make sure to ask questions that elicit information about those characteristics. Virtual interviewing can be challenging to get to know a program and their people, so it definitely helps to have a plan and to be consistent with each program.

Shaleen Sathe, MD: Don’t be afraid of asking the tough questions to figure out which program is the right match for you.

Heidy Cos, MD: Talk to current and former residents. Look at the city but also at the faculty in your program. You’ll be there for 5 years at the very least!

Think About the Future

Annie Hess, MD: Find a place that fits not only where you are now in life, but where you might be in 5 years. You will need a program that will grow with you, both professionally and personally. Figure out what is important to you, and then don’t be afraid to ask programs for those things.

Keenan Robbins, MD: Make sure you know what you’re getting into and that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

William Chapman, MD, MPHS: Go to the place where you can be most productive – in all aspects of life (professional, personal, financial, etc). And don’t forget the corollary – do not go to a program based only on a single individual faculty member!

Know Yourself

William Gerrull, MD: Find what makes you unique and what you can bring to the residency program, and be sure to speak to this in your application and interviews.

Angela Lee, MD: Be your truest self. Residency is a long road and you will be your happiest (and your best) when you are your most genuine you.

Julie Clanahan, MD: Be yourself. If you have certain unique interests, goals, quirks (and we all do…), don’t be afraid to share these during your interviews and interactions with programs. If a program doesn’t like what it hears, it may not be the perfect place for you.

Steven Tohmasi, MD: I would recommend focusing your efforts on figuring out what is most important to you and applying to programs that will help you achieve those things.

Hailey Shepherd, MD: For every decision in life, ask yourself one question: “Does this answer make me feel heavy or light?”

Excellent Advice and Performance in the Division of Surgery

Residents and attendings alike embrace the learning and growth process of the medical practice, aiming for high caliber surgical performance and patient care. To learn more about our physicians at the Department of Surgery, visit our Faculty page.

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