Leadership program for chief residents promotes skills for both inside OR and out

handsSurgery is synonymous with leadership.

Surgeons are the leaders of patient care teams, leaders in the OR, and leaders in hospitals.

As surgical residents progress through their training, they take on a variety of leadership positions. The Resident Leadership Program in UF Health’s Department of Surgery formed to give trainees an opportunity to reflect on what that leadership means for them and the care they provide.

“Historically, people kind of become leaders through trial and error, and there’s a lot of value in understanding your own leadership style,” said George Sarosi, Robert H. Hux Professor and director of the department of surgery’s residency program.

This program is the fifth-year residents’ first formal education in leadership outside of the operating room, intending to prepare them for the next phase of their careers as they leave their training days behind them.

“All of a sudden you finish training, and you’re expected to be the captain of the ship in the operating room,” said David Hall, a fifth-year surgical resident. “This gave us examples of successful leadership styles, and how our own styles can be molded or improved. “

The program consisted of six sessions. Once a month, on a Tuesday afternoon, all six graduating chief surgical residents met with two representatives from the University of Florida’s Center for Leadership and Service.

Sessions encompassed anything from going over real-life situations the residents had experienced recently and implementing leadership skills to role-play scenarios and occasional lectures. Titles included “Resolve and Accountability,” “The Power of Feedback,” and “Leadership Presence.”

The “Leadership 360” feedback each resident received at the start of the program was one of the highlights, Hall said. Surveys were sent out to the residents’ peers, subordinates, mentors, asking them to (anonymously) identify each chief resident’s leadership strengths and areas for potential improvement.

“From a practical standpoint, it helped me go through the program attuned to what I had the opportunity to improve,” said David Hall, M.D., a fifth-year surgical resident.

The program also devoted a segment to motivation—both intrinsic and not.

“Each of us can struggle with motivating ourselves, let alone those around us,” Hall said. “As we go through our training, we achieve a certain level of competence, and one of the privileges we have is learning how to we can inspire that confidence in our junior residents and students.”

One of the program’s strongest supporters is its founder, Timothy C. Flynn, an emeritus professor of the department of surgery who held a strong belief in cultivating leaders and emphasized the importance of residents learning to be deliberate about developing those skills.

“Some of the most important skills we want our surgeons to cultivate are self-insight and understanding your own strengths and weaknesses,” Flynn said. “I think it’s one of the pieces these courses can help with.”

The leadership program is intended to expedite the tools residents develop to practice evidence-based surgery for a lifetime. Chief residents also participate in a self-designed, bi-weekly program, Surgery 501, in which they examine the finer points of complex surgical problems under the guidance of an experienced faculty member, often through oral board review sessions.

Throughout it all, leading the way patient-centered care is a point of emphasis.

“I always told residents, remember who you were before the MD,” Flynn said. “You are a person first. Remember that when you’re talking to another person about their health.”