Course prepares UF medical students for first year as surgical residents

Surgical residents face myriad challenges in the first weeks of their intern year as they transition from students to clinicians.

“The hardest part about being an intern is that you don’t feel ready to be a doctor,” said George Sarosi, M.D., the Robert H. Hux Professor in the University of Florida College of Medicine and program director for the department of surgery’s general surgery residency program.

A course offered by the UF College of Medicine and other universities nationwide helps graduating medical students feel more confident when they enter surgical residencies, Sarosi said. UF is among 53 medical schools offering the Resident Prep Curriculum, which fourth-year medical students complete prior to graduating.

It was designed by the American College of Surgeons, or ACS, the Association of Program Directors in Surgery and the Association for Surgical Education. UF was one of the first universities to pilot the four- week course, and Sarosi was involved with the steering committee that developed the program through the ACS.

“The course is very pragmatic and directed. It gives students a lot of confidence as they transition from being an observer to an active clinician,” Sarosi said. “From a program director’s point of view, knowing that students have been through the course builds faith that they will be able to do their jobs as interns.”

The course focuses on skills that new interns will need during their first weeks of residency, including being a first responder for critically ill or unstable patients; emergency procedures such as ventilation or chest tube placement; managing common and urgent perioperative conditions; responding to pages from nurses; and patient handoffs. At the end of the course, students receive a certificate and UF sends a letter to the head of each student’s surgery residency program.

The majority of the course focuses on communication among providers and functioning as part of a care team. Sanda Tan, M.D., Ph.D., said that the students learn more than technical skills.

“They learn how to transfer cases to another doctor, effectively deliver bad news to patients and family, and communicate well with nurses and other clinicians,” said Tan, an associate professor of surgery and director of the Resident Prep Curriculum at the UF College of Medicine.

A mock paging system, for example, exposes students to the kinds of calls and pages they will get as residents. The students receive 17 pages during the course, Tan said. The medical students receive a text-like page and have three minutes to return the call.

“The pages are not just from the nurses,” Tan said. “It could be from an upset mother whose child has a fever after a surgical procedure.” Eric Pruitt, MD, a UF College of Medicine medical graduate who began his surgical residency at UF on July 1, called the pages “eerily similar” to the ones they expect to receive as interns. He said the course was extremely helpful in preparing him for intern year.

“At the end of the day, intern year will not be filled with days in the operating room, but will mostly be devoted to taking care of patients on the floor. The course really does a great job preparing us for that,” Pruitt said.