Why I Chose the University of Minnesota Surgery Training Program

Resident Perspectives

Camaraderie

"Something clicked when I interviewed at Minnesota. I’m a Midwest boy at heart, and I did both my undergraduate and medical school training at the University of Wisconsin, so the location was a plus from the start. The program checked all my “boxes”: relatively large size, academic, research options, multiple hospitals including a VA, has matched residents to both surgical practice and great fellowship programs in recent years. Check, check, check, check, and check. The interview was more about the “feel” of the program for me, making sure I got along with the residents and that staff were engaged. From the first few minutes of the pre-interview dinner, I was blown away with how great the residents were. They all seemed to genuinely like each other, to know each other on a personal level, and to have each other’s backs. This has certainly been my experience—from the chiefs down, our residents go out of their way to support each other. I had two deaths in the family my intern year, and my fellow interns seamlessly picked up call shifts so I could be with my family. I didn’t even have to ask. One of the third years organized, on her own time, ABSITE study sessions to make sure we were prepared for the exam as interns. Chiefs have sent me “just checking in” texts after particularly difficult or traumatic cases. I genuinely enjoy the people I work with, and that makes intense, sometimes unrelenting days easier. I still want to hang out with my co-residents after work, despite seeing them all day.

I wanted to operate as much as possible as an intern, and I got the feeling that this would be the standard at Minnesota. During my intern year, I ended up being involved in well over 150 cases, more than I had thought possible. 

My biggest concern with the program was how spread out the residents seemed. I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t get to know staff because we were working at multiple hospitals and switching every few months. In reality, I now have mentors at five institutions across the Twin Cities, and I’m exposed to multiple learning environments and surgical styles every year. You can never have enough people tell you their lap chole tricks.

I was also drawn to the Twin Cities in general, which offered a lot of opportunities. There seemed to always be something going on (and this has certainly been true: shows, concerts, outdoor activities, and festivals are too numerous to adequately keep track of). The restaurant scene was amazing every time I visited, and I still manage to find new gems every couple weeks. The economy was thriving; it was easy for my partner to land a job, and while we spent a lot of time and energy looking, we managed to buy a beautiful house in South Minneapolis during my intern year. I wanted to operate as much as possible as an intern, and I got the feeling that this would be the standard at Minnesota. During my intern year, I ended up being involved in well over 150 cases, more than I had thought possible.

I’m excited to enter the lab next year, and I do so with an incredible foundation of clinical and surgical skills. My intern year prepared me to be the best floor provider possible while starting to expose me to the OR. Second year rapidly expanded my critical care skills as I managed complex, tertiary-care-center-level ICU patients and I still spent so much time in the OR that I felt confident as the primary surgeon in most junior-level cases. Third year has developed the breadth of my skills and exposed me to even more interesting pathology, more advanced techniques, and more autonomy and decision-making, both in the operating room and on the floor/clinic/ER. Though I haven’t technically entered lab years yet, I’ve been well-mentored in research by faculty and fellow residents alike and I have published papers and presented at a national meeting while on clinical service. "

Written by: 

Adam C. Sheka, MD

Surgical Research

"The University of Minnesota had a stellar reputation as one of the premier surgical departments in the nation when I applied 9 years ago. The training, with its particular emphasis on surgical research, impressed me greatly. That such an outstanding academic institution would also offer the depth and breadth of surgical pathology and disease that I have been exposed to over the years only solidifies my belief that this program is one of the very best training experiences in the world.

The training, with its particular emphasis on surgical research, impressed me greatly. 

During my time at Minnesota, I have received my Ph.D., written NIH grants, received NIH funding and published in top scientific journals. Along each step of the way I had the guidance and support necessary to accomplish these goals. The program fosters and encourages its residents to take leadership positions within the field of surgery. The environment at the university is one of intellectual curiosity with an intense focus on delivering world-class patient care. The faculty are outstanding and the leadership and mentorship both inside and outside of the operating room are exceptional.

As I complete my residency and transition into fellowship, I have the confidence that I have received the very best training possible. I will always look back fondly on my time at the University of Minnesota as an experience that in a very real way helped shape who I am today and has given me the tools needed to be successful tomorrow."

Written by:
Sylvester M. Black M.D., Ph.D.
Administrative Chief Resident
University of Minnesota, Department of Surgery
Minneapolis, MN

First Year Experience

"As a native of Minnesota and a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School, the general surgery program at the University of Minnesota was the logical place to start my residency search. Throughout the process of interviewing, visiting other institutions, and talking with other surgery residents across the country it became clear to me that it was also where my search would end. Several aspects of the University of Minnesota are both exceptional and unique and I chose the 'U' for several reasons. First and foremost was the depth and breadth of surgical experiences that residents are exposed to. As an academic institution, the University settings allows residents to be involved in the care of patients who have the complex medical problems and who will have operations that may not be seen elsewhere. With its mix of VA, community and private hospital rotations, residents also experience plenty of training with the "bread and butter" cases and learn how to take care of patients with basic surgical issues as well.

On each rotation, the intern serves a different but always active role and is involved in the operative setting as much as possible.

The second reason was the dedication of the program to resident education. From the administrative staff to the other residents to the chairman of the department, education is clearly a top priority. The program allows residents to work with experts in virtually every field of surgery and be exposed to different techniques to help shape them and their future practice. Lastly, the Department of General Surgery truly cares about its residents and their success. It was - and is - clear to me that residents have a voice and can implement change at this institution, which is a vital part of the evolution of surgical practice and care.

Regardless of program, internship is a challenging and exciting time where increasing responsibility is both coveted and intimidating, and my experience at the U has certainly reflected this. The general surgery residency program at the University understands that and goes to great lengths to provide support for the interns for the duration of their first year. This support system is enhanced with staff and senior residents encouraging interns to take a very active role in ownership and management of their patients. Internship at the University program incorporates experiences in trauma at a community and private hospital, general surgery in the University setting, community setting and at a VA hospital as well as experience in specialties such as transplant, thoracic, colorectal, vascular, pediatric surgery, burn surgery, and critical care. On each rotation, the intern serves a different but always active role and is involved in the operative setting as much as possible.

In general, I participate in operative cases 2 or more days per week. Undoubtedly, my first year of training has been extremely challenging, but it has also been extremely rewarding. With the mentorship of faculty, senior residents and even the support of fellow intern classmates, internship has been a time of great personal growth and has truly given me an exceptional foundation in my training to become a surgeon."

Written by:
Kristin Ritter, M.D.

Clinical Learning

"I have had an amazing educational experience throughout my life beginning with my undergraduate years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), then staying there for medical school, and now here at the University of Minnesota for my General Surgery training. Coming to Minnesota as a Southerner was an adventure I was willing to take given the prestige and rich history of the U of M. The program was widely recommended by mentors at UAB, as well as surgical residents I knew across the nation. After hearing Department Chairman Dr. Vickers’ vision for excellence, I knew this would be the program for me.

The clinical learning offered here is beyond what I expected to encounter at any institution.

There is ample opportunity for surgical residents here to use their personal skills and talents for growth as surgeons, clinically and during research years. The clinical learning offered here is beyond what I expected to encounter at any institution. This has allowed me to be a more complete physician. Even at this early stage in my career, I feel empowered to take on the complexities that are seen at an academic center. This confidence is derived from self as well as my surgical mentors and leaders here. Looking at surgical residents as well as those just ahead of me, I know I will be prepared at the completion of my residency to enter into a fellowship of my choice. It is my hope that I can continue to add to the legacy of the University of Minnesota Department of Surgery."

Written by:
Derrick L. Green, M.D.

Operative Experience

"The University of Minnesota Surgical Residency Program provides each resident, at every level, with a complete breadth of patient and operative experience. Each year generates additional responsibilities as well as expectations, appropriate to the level of training. In addition, the combination of various hospital systems allows for a diverse patient population as well as operative variety.

My responsibilities in patient care are continually growing, as I am becoming more equipped to handle even the most complex patients. 

Obtaining a higher level of operative skill is a very prominent goal for a third-year surgical resident. The rotations allow for a complete experience: trauma and acute care surgery on the Regions Night Float rotation, surgical oncology, thoracic surgery, general and vascular surgery, cardiovascular and CV ICU experience at the University of Minnesota, burn surgery at Regions Hospital, and private-based general surgery at Methodist Hospital. I have found myself completing several operations at this level that I am certain would be allowed only Senior and Chief Residents at other programs: total gastrectomy, trauma laparotomy with multiple intra-abdominal injuries, thoracoscopic right middle lobectomy, aortobifemoral bypass, laparoscopic liver resection, total pancreatectomy with auto-islet transplantation, and laparoscopic low anterior resection to name a few. Of course, this is in addition to the vast number of “bread and butter” cases that should comprise any surgical residency program.

The number of operations and procedures is abundant, and I will have nearly 300 cases this year. Interactions with the various fellows is extremely educational, limited to only a few rotations, and never restrictive of operative experience. My responsibilities in patient care are continually growing, as I am becoming more equipped to handle even the most complex patients. The relationships with our staff are, I am convinced, second to no other program, and have allowed for a phenomenal learning environment. Ultimately, I leave my third year with a great foundation of basic patient care, intensive care aptitude, and enhanced operative skill."

Written by:
Tara C. Kendall Krosch, M.D.

Surgeon-Scientists

"The University of Minnesota Surgery Program has a strong tradition of training surgeon-scientists and this is the primary reason I chose to pursue my surgery training here. My research experience has been outstanding due to faculty mentorship, graduate school opportunities, and interdisciplinary research.

I have been exposed to a strong basic science mentor who has developed my abilities in hypothesis generation, experimental design, data interpretation, and, also, experience in applying for grant funding.

The greatest resource to this tradition is the opportunity for interdisciplinary research projects that are possible within the Medical School institution in areas such as transplantation, immunology and cancer biology, pulmonary care, cardiology, and hematology/oncology. I have been exposed to a strong basic science mentor who has developed my abilities in hypothesis generation, experimental design, data interpretation, and, also, experience in applying for grant funding. The ultimate goals of clinical excellence, cutting edge research, and patient care are embodied in the surgeon-scientist training.

Complementing my project has been the ability to pursue formal coursework at the graduate level. With mentorship, knowledge, experience, and innovation, I will be positioned to start out as an independent researcher when I begin my academic career."

Written by:
Ryan C. Shelstad, M.D.

Research and Leadership

"The University of Minnesota Department of Surgery has a long history of training leaders. Because of the strong clinical and academic training that we receive, many of our graduates match into the sub-specialty fellowship program of their choice. Over the last ten years, the graduating chief residents who chose to pursue a career in cardiothoracic surgery have matched into a number of top-tier fellowship programs, including Stanford, Minnesota, Michigan, Brigham and Women's, Penn, and Johns Hopkins.

Like most residents in our program, I've also had the opportunity to present at major national meetings and publish in high-impact sub-specialty surgery journals.

The University of Minnesota Department of Surgery has provided me with a strong foundation necessary to become a successful academic thoracic surgeon: patient care, education, and research. In addition to excellent, broad clinical training, I've had the opportunity to develop educational programs for medical students and residents to prepare me as a future educator.

Minnesota has a long history of excellence in research. Like most residents in our program, I've also had the opportunity to present at major national meetings and publish in high-impact sub-specialty surgery journals. In addition, the mentoring provided by the thoracic surgery faculty has been truly exceptional and has been vital to my success and maturation as a physician. Overall, my training at the University of Minnesota has put me in a position to be a competitive fellowship candidate and has allowed me to establish a foundation for a productive academic career."

Written by:
Shawn S. Groth, M.D.

Resident Research Experience

Most residents at the University of Minnesota take 1-2 years off from clinical responsibilities at the end of their 3rd year to pursue a research project or advanced degree. This time is not just for pipetting or counting cells, but it is designed to provide a spherical learning environment for resident development. The research years come after the 3rdclinical year so that residents have had time to develop their interests and establish appropriate mentorship through both formal and informal means. This way, they are able to design their experience to match their needs and interests, instead of being simply shepherded into a lab. Many applicants ask if they have to write their own grant in order to have funding to pursue surgical research. The answer is no. However, residents frequently have the opportunity to participate in grant writing during their time in the lab, which is useful knowledge to acquire. Local and national grant writing seminars are also available to those who are interested.

The opportunities for research endeavors are incredibly broad and have included, but are not limited to, basic science research on pancreatic cancer, translational and experimental surgical research in bariatric and transplant surgery, large and small animal polytrauma models, cardiac valve work, bioinformatics, along with a broad range of clinical outcomes research. The opportunities are truly innumerable and the often multidisciplinary experiences that residents participate in provides a very comprehensive experience that helps prepare residents well for their future careers as surgeon scientists.

Some choose to pursue additional academic degrees during this time. Current and past residents have completed PhDs, MBAs, MPHs, and Masters in Clinical Research. In addition, 2 residents are selected to participate in the University-wide Resident Leadership Academy, which is a year-long course designed to facilitate collaboration amongst specialties and to develop highly effective leaders in a variety of future settings. https://www.med.umn.edu/residents-fellows/current-residents-fellows/education-development/participation

As another part of the research program, residents are involved in teaching the 3rd year medical student clerkship surgical skills curriculum, utilizing the modified American College of Surgeons/Association of Surgical Educators Medical Student Skills Curriculum. This is a great opportunity for residents to hone their teaching and leadership skills in a controlled environment without the pressure of clinical responsibilities.

If desired, the flexible schedule of the lab years also provides the opportunity for many residents to participate in international surgical endeavors under the mentorship of several of our University attendings.

Current Lab Resident Activities

Ariella Altman

I am currently in my first of two years dedicated to research. I am working with Dr. Tuttle in the Department of Surgical Oncology on clinical outcomes research.  I am involved in a multitude of different projects related to surgical oncology, from quality of life to survival in diseases such as breast cancer, liver cancer, peritoneal malignancies and pancreatic cancer. During these two years I am also pursuing my Masters in Clinical Research from the School of Public Health and am taking part in the University wide Resident Leadership Academy.

Paul Frydenlund

As Chief Resident in Quality and Patient Safety (CRQS) at our VA in Minneapolis I am responsible for conducting QI projects and addressing patient safety issues. I am a member of our Peer Review committee which evaluates adverse outcomes and near misses for potential systems and human factors. I also have the opportunity to join in on Root Cause Analysis meetings which evaluate adverse events for potential improvement and present findings to the VA executive team.

Kevin Goodwin

For my year in research, I am primarily working as a University of Minnesota Innovation Fellow and concurrently studying to complete a Masters of Science in Biomedical Engineering. The fellowship consists of physicians, engineers and entrepreneurs coming together to identify clinical needs, invent/test prototype solutions and create patents for these devices. The goal is to learn every step that goes into developing a device including brainstorming, designing, testing and commercializing. Additionally, I am also collaborating on review articles, chapters and outcomes based research projects in various surgical fields.

Scott Kizy

I am working with Dr. Ikramuddin on the effects of bariatric surgery on adipose tissue dysfunction and microbiome health. We are also interested in the molecular effects of obesity and weight loss on breast cancer cells. I also work with Dr. Todd Tuttle and Dr. Jane Hui on several cancer outcome studies. Lastly, I have been awarded a grant looking at disparities in receipt and outcomes of bariatric surgery.

Yuriy Mokylak

I work in Experimental Surgical Services (ESS) on large animal research, involving heart valve and other cardiac work as well cardiac device testing from industry partners. My current project is the creation of an a new animal model for TAVR device testing. In addition to traditional research duties, I have the privilege to hone my surgical skills and learn to perform cardiac surgery on large animals.

Mariya Skube

I am currently in my second dedicated research year.  My primary research mentor is Dr. Greg Beilman, and I focus on clinical outcomes research for total pancreatectomy and islet autotransplantation patients.  Other additional research interests include pediatric surgery, trauma, global surgery, and health disparities. I am also pursuing my Masters in Public Health through the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Steven Skube

I am a 5th year general surgery resident in my second designated research year. My research interests include medical informatics, colorectal clinical outcomes research, and surgical education. My research mentors are Dr. Genevieve Melton-Meaux, Dr. Mary Kwaan, and Dr. Jeffery Chipman.

Keith Wirth

I’m studying the intersection of obesity, diabetes, and pancreatic diseases.  As a T32 fellow, I work with a collaborative group of principle investigators including Dr. Sayeed Ikramuddin, a bariatric surgeon, Dr. David Bernlohr, a molecular biologist, and Dr. Masato Yamamoto, a translational cancer biologist.  In addition to this research work, I am working towards a Master’s Degree in Surgical Research through the UMN graduate school.