From Day One

by Allyson R. Alfonso, BS, BA1 and Ira L. Savetsky, MD2

Medical Student, NYU School of Medicine; Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health

2Plastic Surgery Resident, Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery, NYU Langone Health 

Over the years, PRS Resident Chronicles has passed down wisdom to medical students on how to navigate the journey to becoming a plastic surgeon. From developing a successful plastic surgery interest group to excelling in sub-internships, the match and intern year, readers have learned tips and tricks from the masters. A unifying aspect of all training, every plastic surgeon has experienced the rollercoaster that is medical school. PRS Medical Student Corner therefore recognizes this shared milestone and provides a formal outlet for students to find advice on everything plastic surgery, not only from seasoned plastic surgeons and residents, but also, uniquely, directly from students.  

This first post of many will present the framework on how to navigate your plastic surgery interest from day one of medical school. It will give you a thousand-foot-view of how to reach your next career goal – the thought on all of our minds – becoming a plastic surgery resident.

  1. First Year Medical Student: Congratulations, future doctor! You have earned the short white coat and the special opportunity to learn medicine. If you already have an interest in plastic surgery – great, you’re ahead of the game! However, before diving in, establish the study habits and work ethic that will become your foundation for the duration of medical school. Once you’ve mastered your routine, the fun can begin – start shadowing, join your school’s Plastic Surgery Interest Group, attend your department or division’s weekly Grand Rounds and enjoy reading the journal and blog for the latest in plastic surgery! Once you can manage your time well, seek out research opportunities. Search early for summer research programs that are offered between first and second year. We’ll also give you insight on medical student research in plastic surgery in a future post.
  2. Second Year/Pre-clinical Student*: You’re on a roll! You should be getting the hang of school at this point and hopefully building on the work you started during your summer research program. Continue to build your rapport with the department or division, attend Grand Rounds, and seek out a mentor who is enthusiastic to help guide your career path. We soon will have a detailed conversation about the value of mentorship. Keep an eye out for the full story. 
  3. Third Year/Clinical Student*: Start getting used to mistakenly being called “doctor,” because it’s going to be your title before you know it! This is the first and last time you may see certain parts of medicine, so pause a moment to take it all in and realize that this is the start of your clinical career. Everything is fair game and you should treat all you do with the utmost attention, regardless of its application, or lack thereof, to plastic surgery. In many schools this will also be the first time you are graded. The best advice I can give comes from my background in team sports – if you focus on the tackle and skill in front of you, the drive to excel at every practice before the game, then you will have done everything possible to get to the goal. But if you focus on the goal and get lost in the worry of making it, you will lose some essential opportunities to succeed. Likewise, if you completely focus on putting your patients first, giving every task, regardless of its size, your every attention, not only will the grade you are hoping for follow, but you will also display maturity in your work and enjoy the process. These tips in addition to more will be highlighted in a post on excelling in your surgical rotations. This will ultimately set yourself up to confidently choose your specialty and begin formulating your fourth year plans.
  4. Fourth Year: Your persistence and dedication has paid off! The details of this final year has been the emphasis of most medical student discussion in PRS Resident Chronicles. The posts are highlighted below in the medical student archives. Most importantly, this is the time to organize and present yourself as a polished residency applicant. Talk to your peers, advisors, mentors, and newly-minted residents. Make sure you know your own CV as swiftly as you can recite your phone number, and schedule sub-internships at the programs you would like to go to for residency.
  5. Research and Dual Degree Students: The first step is determining that this is the path for you. The second is figuring out what you will do during this time. I’ve frequently heard the terminology: what will you be doing during your “time off”? The correct interpretation is that this is most definitely not “time off,” though it is time away from traditional studies to continue to explore the field of plastic surgery. There are many reasons why you may decide to pursue research or a dual degree. You may want to grow deeper knowledge and understanding in a certain research topic, continue to build relationships at your institution, or pursue a degree or experience you find utility in for reaching your career goals. Whatever the reason, the decision is personal and should be what is best for you and your career.
  6. International Medical Students: The structure of medical school and the opportunities available to you can vary, but the characteristics of a good student and what programs look for in a good resident are the same. Continue to excel at what you do, make the best of the opportunities offered and complete all licensing exams. There are often detailed discussions for students who have completed medical school outside of the United States, and you should be well versed in the process (look below under The Match, post from July 17, 2018, “10 Tips for Matching into Plastic Surgery (Integrated) Residency for the International Medical Graduate”).
  7. *Depending on your medical school curriculum, you may take Step 1 at the end of pre-clinical or clinical year. Yes, Step 1 is important and you should treat it as such. However, contrary to common belief, it is neither a golden ticket nor an absolute contraindication to pursue a path to plastic surgery. You must have an honest conversation with your mentor and with yourself. Your response to adversity will reflect your character and qualities as a resident.

Bottom line: there is no one-size-fits-all for becoming a plastic surgeon. From day one of your journey, your dedication, genuine interest and perseverance will be your keys to success. Plastic surgery demands excellence; it will require your utmost attention and commitment, but it is not an impossible achievement. PRS Medical Student Cornerrecognizes this first stepping stone and is here to foster the student-to-student interaction and collaboration that will carry the field, and quite literally the future of plastic surgery to the next level.

PRS Resident Chronicles Archives for Medical Students

The archives below include links to all previous articles in PRS Resident Chronicles geared directly toward medical students. Use this as a reference point for past posts and continue your medical student-to-student directed reading through PRS Medical Student Corner.

For Medical Students Interested in Plastic Surgery

Plastic Surgery Interest Group:

Becoming a Plastic Surgeon:

For Plastic Surgery Residency Applicants




Choosing a Program:

The Match:

Becoming a Plastic Surgery Resident:


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