Melissa Hanson

June 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 is quite surreal to finally be done! The first 2 years seemed to last forever but the last 3 years flew by! Despite how prepared I was for residency, I really had no idea what I was in for when I signed up and I couldn’t be happier with who I am now and all that I learned at the end of it all.

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 will be starting a minimally invasive surgery fellowship in August at McGill for a year followed by a second year in bariatric surgery while pursuing a masters degree. After that I hope to get a job at a mid-sized academic hospital in Canada.

Q3) What are you going to miss the most about residency?
I am going to miss the people I work with – they really have become family to me. In Ottawa our group is very close – we work hard but also ensure we have time to unwind together. I don’t only mean the residents but the staff as well – they have become that voice in my head when I am trying to figure out what to do on call, in clinic, and even in everyday life decisions!

A close second will be the nurses/allied health at TOH – they really have taken care of me throughout my training from feeding me on call, checking in on me during my pregnancy, and encouraging me throughout my residency with their feedback and support.

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?
I went to UWO for medical school (when it was still called “UWO”). I come from a small town and just assumed I would be a family doctor. I am the first person in my family to go to medical school and I didn’t even know what CaRMS was when I started! One of my earliest mentors in medicine was the late Dr. Murray Girotti – he was my small group leader in first year medical school. He asked me on one of our first feedback sessions what I wanted to do and when I replied “Family Medicine” he smiled and then said “Not with all that energy, you are going to be a general surgeon!”. He then helped me set up a few observerships and it didn’t take me long to figure out that Dr. Girotti was right!

Q5) What is the most memorable thing that you have done outside of surgery in the last five years?
I really didn’t do much outside surgery for 5 (almost 6) years apart from raising two children! I had my daughter during second year of medical school and my son during second year of residency. The photo on the beach was of our first family vacation outside of Canada. We went to Cuba after all my 4th year electives were completed as a reward for my awesome family working through me being away for most of the year. I couldn’t have made it this far without the support from my dedicated husband and the unconditional love that comes from my two children.

Q6) What was your most memorable night on call?
The first time I ever did a trauma splenectomy as a primary operator! Our trauma surgeons are excellent teachers and I had described a trauma spleen for oral exam practice dozens of times but had never actually seen one. I was shocked how easy it came up and we were able to control the bleeding fairly quickly. I was so pleased with myself and looked up at the attending, he was totally unfazed and just said “well clamp it and take it out!”. That was pretty amazing. I, of course, took a photo of myself with my attending (Dr. Matar) after the case to commemorate it.

Q7) What was the absolute funniest moment during your residency?
I think a picture does this the most justice. New Year’s Eve – I brought all kinds of ridiculous things to the hospital to bring some cheer to my junior while being stuck on call. I fully enjoyed following my junior around while she was trying to work. I then made her watch “Bird Box” with me as I was too scared to watch it myself! The best part was we only got one consult all night – it was great!

Q8) How about the scariest moment during your residency?
I was a new senior and my staff was in the OR with my co-senior on our busiest acute care service. I was walking through the ER to see if there was anything that needed to be done at the end of the day when an ER staff grabbed me and said: “this guy needs you, I think he’s perforated following a scope and we are having difficulty bag masking him!” The patient was significantly distended with a chest X-Ray showing more free air than I had ever seen. The ER resident was trying to bag mask him but his sats were terrible and I was on my own. So I remembered what I had seen a staff do in a paediatric patient post air enema perforation and I needle decompressed his abdomen with an angiocath! He immediately took a deep breath! He was then breathing independently enough for me to talk to him and consent him for surgery. I got ahold of my staff and the first thing he said when I told him what I did was “that’s interesting, I wouldn’t have done that!”. I immediately felt like I did something wrong as I hadn’t discussed it with a staff ahead of time and then he said “that’s cool!”. It was terrifying at the time!

Q9) Do you have any call superstitions or routines?
I never go home on call – because the only time I do people end up with bad traumas or too much free air!

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?
Do what you love and the rest will fall into place! If you love your job, work won’t feel like work and you will excel and find a job. Treat each day and each person you encounter as a job interview because you never know who is going to be making a decision down the road in terms of your employment.

Q11) What would your juniors say is the best thing about you?
I think it is my determination to get them involved in cases while on call. I know that at night most of the time people just want to get the case done so we can go to bed but that junior resident has been working so hard just for a chance to do something in the OR. I try to slow things down to get them involved not just with the technical aspect of operating but also with feedback around the cases we see on call.

Q12) Rapid fire:

What do you listen to in the OR? Whatever is on – but I actually prefer silence especially when I am primary operator!
What is the operation you dislike the most? EUA with drainage of abscess +/- seton +/- fistulotomy
What is the operation you like the most? Nissen fundoplication or Roux-en-Y gastric bypass
What is your favourite medical TV show? This is difficult – Grey’s to watch on my own or Scrubs with other people.
What is your go-to surgery textbook? Cameron’s
What is your post-call ritual? The days I actually go home – its eggs benedict, spiked orange juice, shower, day time sleeping then waking up to check on the patients I admitted the night before to see how they are doing followed by family dinner and early bedtime.
What is your favourite “go-to” food on call? Coffee and water – I tend not to eat much on call
White coat or hoodie? White coat
Single or double glove? Double ALWAYS
Dry scrub or wet scrub? Dry
Trauma laparotomy or elective Whipple? Trauma laparotomy
Open inguinal hernia repair or laparoscopic? Laparoscopic
Monocryl or skin staples? Monocryl (see above!)
Perianal abscess I+D or ingrown toenail????? Neither … but if I had to choose I’d go for the toe!

Bonus photo of one of my study buddies (and future general surgeon) while on maternity leave: