On the 1st of April, my alarm wakes me up at 0530 on a bunker bed right in the middle of Chicago. I had landed here just a night earlier, and in a matter of hours I was all set to start my first clinical experience in the United States. The place was Northwestern Memorial Hospital (only a 20 minute journey away), and to be specific, at the Division of Reconstructive and Plastic Surgery. I doubt I could have been any wiser with my choice than that.

Surgery as a field seems to bring together the best in me. Pursuing information about spatial structures and the fine architecture, and using that in turn to fix problems brings back that old childhood joy of seeing a broken toy car work after hours of diligence. Surgery combines my love for arrangements and fine design with the need to plan out the exact sequence of what needs to be done. For me, it shares aspects with my some of my other fixations –geography, architecture, fine arts and the billiards table. Surgery also appears to be a productive avenue for my deep desire (almost an itch) to deconstruct and fix things, broken or otherwise –from opening up my toy cars to the radios and telephones, calculators, cell phones, computers or any device with an obscuring case and screws!

A lot can get thrown at you on your first day in Chicago. I suited up and made my way out to the hospital to meet my Electives Coordinator and then my Clinical Supervisor. Dr. Victor Lewis Jr. had agreed to be my clinical supervisor. I had read up a bit on him and was looking forward to the honor of meeting this seasoned Plastic Surgeon and academician. I arrived at Downtown Chicago at 0700, just as the sun was shining its first rays on this elegant and gorgeous district home to some of finest historical architecture in whole of America.

So How Did I Get In?

The Fienberg School of Medicine runs a Visiting Student Elective Program. A detailed catalog of available clinical rotations is available for final year medical students. Applicants are required to submit Grade Transcripts, Proof of School enrolment and Letters of Recommendations with the appropriate fee, four months in advance. Successful candidates are informed in a matter of weeks by the Office of Medical Education. The entire process is extremely efficient and smooth. Check the Visiting Student Elective page here.

The Elective Experience and the Program

In short, it was an explosive learning environment. The floor was always bustling with energy, from the morning rounds to the occasional long surgery late into the night. Plastics is a very versatile field that presents remarkably novel and diverse range of cases. I was observing and assisting on elaborate cosmetic procedures, wound closures, debridement and some highly complex and enduring microsurgical flap procedures. The surgeons were invariably welcoming and helped students in their learning experience as we explored the field. The residents were very supportive and the nursing staff filled in any gap in the learning curve for a newbie like me. The OR was a surprisingly fun place to be in, with all the people chipping in to give a holistic learning experience to students present.

The morning rounds started at 0600, which means the students should try to get there by quarter to six to help out with the charting and getting things in order for the round. The post-op rounds mostly consisted of wound inspection, dressing change and patient counseling, giving a fair bit of exposure to usual patient concerns and post-op care to students. OR’s usually begin at 0800, with the pre-op assessment and marking preceding the patient getting shifted to the OR.

You know you are in the middle of finest Plastic Surgery Program in America when you experience some of the toughest reconstructive cases time and over again. From post-traumatic to post-cancer surgery reconstruction, and a greater workload of aesthetic cases, Northwestern has built a reputation for its Plastic Surgery integrated program as a fruitful and challenging training ground for residents.

Northwestern University is also at the forefront of novel research, with several pioneering academicians in the field working on broadening horizons of applicability of Plastics Surgery to nerve reconstruction, hand reconstruction and facial burns injury, among many others.

Who Did I Meet During My Elective?

Dr. Gregory Dumanian is the Chief and Program Director at the Plastics Surgery Division. He possesses cross-specialty capabilities with appointments as professor in neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery –something he uses to science’s advantage by pursuing groundbreaking research on reinnervation for arm amputees, which is giving a new lease of hope for victims of war and other catastrophes. He is an expert in some of the toughest aspects of Plastic surgery including abdominal wall reconstruction and microsurgical neural anastomosis.

Dr. Neil Fine has astonishing capabilities with his microsurgical instruments as well as his scalpels. He is an expert in flap reconstruction and a great aesthetic surgeon. He is an entirely charming person and possesses great tastes in arts, music and culture –qualities that particularly suit Plastic Surgeons.

Dr. John Kim is a another pioneering figure in innovations in Plastic Surgery, having given more than 100 lectures and educational courses and holding multiple patents for medical devices.

Dr. Robert Galliano is one of the recognized Best Teachers at the Feinberg School of Medicine –a badge he proudly wears on his white coat. His research in facial reconstruction is paving way for some of the most striking developments in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, poised to help ameliorate the plight of severe facial disfigurement.

Dr. Mohammed Alghoul is an outstanding surgeon –extremely meticulous with his complex eyelid surgical procedures and breast reconstruction. He has an eye for perfection and a reputation for his high professional standards.

Dr. Micheal J. Lee is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Surgery. In my few opportunities to work with him, I found him to be extremely friendly, helpful and witty. He has a great capability to connect with the patients, junior residents and students, making the team at ease with his friendly demeanor. He is also extremely proficient with his aesthetic surgery skills, which were frankly astonishing.

Helpful Tips

1. Be there early.
2. NEVER excuse yourself.
3. Team up with all members of the team including other students.
4. Maintain healthy energy levels –frequently snack and take strategic coffee breaks.
5. Keep a pocket handbook on the go. I had a Michigan Manual of Plastic Surgery that I had rendered to fit into my PDA.

Michigan Manual of Plastic Surgery
Feinberg Visiting Students Program
Northwestern Plastic Surgery Practice