I shadowed a surgeon/residents and this scared me. please help.

Basically the residents had red eyes, were generally quiet and obviously exhausted. This I can deal with. The issue that bothered me was they weren’t really doing or learning anything.

The majority of the time they were just standing there, there was not any interesting procedures going on for the most part. Probably during the five hours I was there there was 30 minutes maximum of information/interesting things for the residents. (I understand they have more advanced knowledge than I do but please take my word. They were really bored and did not need to be there.)

Is this normal? It just seemed like everyone was somewhat miserable and it was basically an exercise on who can stay up the longest without falling over. This was at a top 100 Hospital in a major city.

I just want some feedback because personally I would HATE that. I am happy to work hard for extended periods of time when necessary and LOVE learning and am passionate about helping people but is this what I can expect? This seems too much like directly trading money for time instead of production.

If this is common can anyone suggest residencies that are maybe less hours but more interesting?

I would much rather work 50-70 hours a week actively than 100 when 3/4th of my work is just not falling over in a hallway. I feel like what I saw is the only aspect of entering medicine that I feel like I absolutely could not do for an extended period of time.


You will not be working 100 hours a week in residency. ACGME regulations state that residents can work no more than 80 hours per week averaged over 4 weeks (88 hours for neurosurgery). There are also strict regulations on how many days off you have to have off, duty free periods, etc. Starting next year, 1st year residents will no longer be able to work more than 16 consecutive hours (meaning no more 30 hour call shifts). Without doing 30 hour call, it’s generally very difficult to hit 80 hours a week.

Now, that being said, certain residency programs routinely violate the work hour rules and/or strongly encourage their residents to falsify their work hours. Surgical residencies tend to be among those with violations. I would like to think that your experience wasn’t typical of every day in that residency’s program, though. It’s also difficult to say that they weren’t learning anything from standing there just because there wasn’t active teaching going on. A fair amount is learned in surgery just from watching an experienced surgeon - how they hold their instruments, what approaches they take, etc. Perhaps it was just that surgeon - residents actively participate in procedures the vast majority of the time.

In any case - long hours are tolerable if you love what you are doing. I’ve worked ~80 a week in the ICU . . . the hours are long, but not unbearable because I really love the ICU. If it weren’t for having a family, I wouldn’t mind the long hours nearly as much. There are plenty of specialties and residency programs where the residents are not miserable, and often even happy. I think the vast majority of people in my program are happy with where they are.

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This was at a top 100 Hospital in a major city.

It may be that there are several residency programs at this hospital. One of the things I am looking for in picking a family practice residency is an "unopposed" residency program. At a program with only one residency program, there is a lot more opportunity to do and learn, even at a smaller hospital. Just file it away - you will get opportunity to scope out a number of possible residency programs before you get to that point to find one that is a good fit. What you saw is not generally true of all programs.