Stephen Oh, MD, a recently graduated member of the 2013 class at Columbia University’s Surgical Residency Program, is now continuing his medical education with a fellowship in pediatric surgery here. We caught up with him shortly after graduation to discuss his experience as a resident.
How long have you been at Columbia? What was your clinical focus during your residency?
This will be my fourth year at Columbia. I went to medical school at New York Medical College and recently completed my residency in general surgery here at Columbia. I ended up focusing on pediatric surgery as a resident, and I am continuing my studies here as a fellow in pediatric surgery.
What does the pediatric surgery fellowship entail?
The pediatric surgery fellowship is a two-year program that focuses on treating pediatric surgical diseases including congenital disorders, cancers, abdominal deformities, thoracic cases, and much more.
It is a specialty whose scope of diseases is as wide as its modes of treatment.
What are your plans once you have completed the fellowship program?
I would like to stay in an academic setting so I can be involved in both treating cases and in training residents and students. My hope is to not only be a practicing surgeon, but to be involved in training the next generation of surgeons as well.
Why did you choose pediatric surgery?
What really attracted me to this field was seeing how the pediatric surgeons conducted themselves professionally and their approach to patient care. They paid attention to every detail and considered every aspect of the patient’s health during care. Being directly involved with every facet and taking care of the patient at a very critical time in their life was something that I wanted to do.
What is both interesting and challenging about pediatric surgery is that you really have to deal with two sets of patients. You have to try to explain the disease or procedure to a child who doesn’t even really understand it, and then you have to explain it to the parents, who are much more aware of what is going on. It is challenging, but also really rewarding, because you are not only treating and helping a patient, you are helping that patient’s family.
You are staying at Columbia, but what aspects of your residency do you think that you will miss?
The residents. I already miss my classmates. I was very lucky to be part of a class in which people were very supportive and very dedicated to their jobs, and it was nice to be in a situation where you can draw inspiration from your co-workers. They were not only kind-hearted people, but they shared information and knowledge with one another. There was a collective effort to do the best possible job for the patient, and for each other as well.
In addition, the attending surgeons were great. They really took the time to teach us, and that was not always an easy thing to do. Their dedication to our progress and our development was amazing, and they helped us evolve from being their students to becoming colleagues and surgeons.
I feel that this program is not just about teaching and training doctors, but teaching and training leaders. The expectation wasn’t that we were just going to go out and practice medicine, but that we would be involved in leading the field and leaving it better than we found it. They taught us that there was a higher purpose to what we were doing.
What advice would you give to a new resident entering the program today?
I would tell new residents that they should embrace the experiences that they might not think will be too pleasant, because those are the things that you really learn from. Your residency is a learning process and you learn from what you do well, but you also learn from what you don’t do well. They should be grateful for the people who are there to help them grow, even if the message they give isn’t always a pleasant one.
The people who care about the residents and want to see them succeed are usually the ones who take the time to help them get better. This sometimes means criticizing your technique or questioning your judgment, but you should embrace this learning environment. Although you may not always feel good about this process, the people here truly want you to do well.
How do you maintain work-life balance in such a demanding career? How would you advise other residents to strike this balance?
I would advise a new resident to not neglect their support network. Make time for your family and friends. As important as work is, you need to make time for the important people in your life as well. You need to have the same level of dedication to your life outside of work as you do to your job. You have to prioritize family time, just like you prioritize study time.
Aside from time spent with family, I personally am grateful for any time I get to be active. Whether that is going outside for a run or playing a round of golf, being active is my relief from the pressure.
Be sure to also read our previous article in this interview series: Spotlight on Graduating Chief Resident Dr. Beth Hochman