Katie Duncan

October 2020


Q1) It is your Chief year! Did you ever believe this year would come? How would you reflect on the journey overall thus far? 
It does seem unbelievable that I’ve made it to my chief year! Surgical residency is definitely a long road and yet, like even the busiest call shifts, eventually the end arrives. Our training is such an amazing and transformative process, but sometimes it is hard to appreciate how far you’ve come. It’s been a highlight to work with fresh residents each July and it makes me so excited to see them progress through their training. Residency changes you in some fundamental ways and has taught me just how fragile and precious life is. I am so grateful for these lessons, the ways I’ve grown and the many people who have guided me.

Q2) So what is next?  Where are you off to in July? Have you already lined up a job or a fellowship or are you still keeping your options open?
I am very excited to have matched to the Complex General Surgical Oncology/HPB fellowship spot in Toronto for next year! I cannot wait for this new adventure to begin.

Q3) What are you going to miss th e most about residency?
I am definitely going to miss the camaraderie most. Being in the trenches with your fellow residents, swapping stories and sharing the good and bad times – that is probably my favourite part of being a resident. There’s nothing like going to a 24-hour Thai restaurant across the street from the hospital at 3 am and eating noodles while completely exhausted with your senior resident.

Q4) Where did you go to medical school and how did you come about the decision to specialize in General Surgery? Was it something you gradually got into or is there an “aha” moment from your background or training?
When I was in 3rd year of medical school at UBC, my general surgery rotation was with our surgical oncology team and I definitely got hooked! Before that, I really hadn’t considered pursuing a surgical career. But the I loved the instant gratification of being able to cure a disease with a couple hours worth of work. I also loved the way our surgical oncologists took care of their patients and tackled difficult conversations with empathy. I had come to my surgical rotation very much having internalized the stereotypes about cold (and predominantly male) surgeons, but the reality of surgery was completely different and utterly inspiring.

Q5) What is the most memorable thing that you have done outside of surgery in the last five years?
I was able to move to Baltimore for a year to complete my MPH during residency and it was the most amazing life experience and education. Everything about my career and life changed and improved with that year.

Q6) What was your most memorable night on call?
Well it wasn’t at night, but I did have a memorable day in one of our small community sites. Call was absolutely quiet so I went for a trail run (with the on-call surgeon’s permission of course!) Unfortunately, I gathered a bit of excessive speed on a steep downhill segment, tripped, and dislocated my shoulder when I hit the ground. Instead of operating that evening, I spent the day getting my shoulder reduced and getting used to my new sling!

Q7) What was the absolute funniest moment during your residency?
It’s hard to pick just one, laughing with fellow residents (frequently at myself) is a frequent pastime in residency. However, I do remember being a 1st year resident on my Emerg rotation. The ER physician was telling me about a patient and mentioned, in passing, their blood alcohol level. The number he said didn’t mean much to me, so I asked him what a normal blood alcohol level was. He turned, looked me straight in the eye, and said “I don’t know about you, but for me a normal blood alcohol level is zero”.

Q8) How about the scariest moment during your residency?
There have been a few specific cases with critically ill or dying patients that terrified me. In particular, I am so appreciative of everyone who does pediatric general surgery because nothing scares me more than a critically ill child.

Q9) Do you have any call superstitions or routines?
I absolutely always ensure I have extra food and snacks! If you don’t have enough food, you always get super busy and end up ravenous at 4am without any supplies.

Q10) If you could give some words of wisdom to new Residents starting General Surgery (or to your past self on the first day of residency) in the light of everything we’re facing these days across Canada (limited jobs, duty hour restrictions, more and more specialization), what would it be?
Oh goodness, I’m not sure how much wisdom I have to share. I would say that every day, especially on hard days or days where I have struggled, I always ask myself “Am I better at the end of the day than I was at the beginning?” And as long as the answer is yes, which it always is, then you’re on the right track. I also really encourage residents to stop worrying so much about what other people (especially staff, fellows, senior residents) think about them. You’ll be a better resident if you’re focused on your own learning and on your patients instead of trying to impress everyone else. Not even your most intimidating staff and smartest senior residents were born knowing all this stuff, everyone has to learn. I’d rather ask the “dumb” questions than not know the answers!

Q11) What would your juniors say is the best thing about you?
In addition to my staggering intellect, abundance of charm and prodigious surgical skills… It would make me very happy if my junior residents said I was good humoured, approachable and supportive. Our junior residents work so relentlessly hard, I strongly believe they deserve excellent educational experiences in return.

Q12) Rapid fire:

  • What do you listen to in the OR? Whatever makes the team happy
  • What is the operation you dislike the most? Removing ingrown toenails
  • What is the operation you like the most? Right hepatectomy
  • What is your favourite medical TV show? ER – I used to sneak down after my bedtime and watch episodes as a child!
  • What is your go-to surgery textbook? Cameron’s
  • What is your post-call ritual? Nap for 2 hours, pretend I’m going to go for a run, end up watching Netflix or TV, give up on running, make dinner and go to sleep.
  • What is your favourite “go-to” food on call? The Vancouver General Hospital hashbrown bowl for end of call breakfast. I don’t want to know what’s in it, but it is delicious.
  • White coat or hoodie? I’m all about the UBC vest. But anything with pockets big enough for my reusable coffee mug will do.
  • Single or double glove? Double
  • Dry scrub or wet scrub? Wet
  • Trauma laparotomy or elective Whipple? Elective whipple!
  • Open inguinal hernia repair or laparoscopic? Laparoscopic
    Monocryl or skin staples? Monocryl
  • Perianal abscess I+D or ingrown toenail????? Perianal I+D

Stories of Graeme Hintz
Now we get to the good part! Graeme and I both started residency together 6 years ago and I must start off by saying he is a genuinely fantastic resident. He’s clinically excellent, a great teacher, and always the most pleasant person to work with. We share a dry sense of humour that has gotten us through many a tough day. I’d like to think we make a good resident team too – our one ACS call shift together, when I was back from my MPH for the winter and helping cover junior call, we managed to have a complete strikeout for consults. Almost unprecedented in the history of VGH, we had zero consults in 24 hours!