Robin Visser

February 2017

University of Manitoba

Robin Visser in a canoe

1) 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’m really excited to be going to Toronto to do a fellowship in hepatobiliary. I felt like I won the lottery when I matched and I’m just so honoured to have the opportunity to go live that experience.

2) What are you going to miss the most about residency?

I’m going to miss my colleagues. We’re all a pretty close-knit group in Winnipeg. Despite working in relatively big hospitals (500-800 beds), I feel like I personally know most people in every department and we always stop to chat when we pass each other in the hallway. That doesn’t just apply to the medical staff but to all the support staff as well. It’s really nice to have that personal connection. It makes coming into the hospital every morning feel like I’m walking through the front door at home. That’s a pretty special feeling and I try to celebrate it.

3) Where did you grow up and what did you do in your life before medicine? Not just professionally, but did you have any hobbies or passions that you still pursue?

I grew up in Ottawa, ON. For undergrad, I did a combined honours in Humanities (philosophy, religion, history, and art) and Biology. I took an extra year so that I could do an honours project in both majors, partly out of pure interest and partly because I had no idea what to do with my life. Thank goodness one of my philosophy professors pulled me aside one day and said, “why don’t you try medicine?” It hadn’t even been on my radar before that but I took his advice and the rest, I guess, is history.

Robin Visser
In my spare time, I’m an outdoor sport junkie. If it’s outside and active, I’m in! My favourite sports lately have been canoeing and road cycling. I love getting out in the backcountry and Manitoba has some amazing lakes and rivers to explore. Even a short weekend spent camping feels as restorative as a whole week spent on vacation doing something else. In my 3rd year, my husband and I cycled unsupported from Paris, France to Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was our first ever cycling trip and we totalled over 1000km. We literally put our bikes together in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and then took them apart 16 days later at the airport in Amsterdam. It was an amazing trip and I’d love to do more cycle touring in the future.

Robin Visser and her husband

4) What is the most memorable thing that you have done outside of surgery in the last five years?

I didn’t want to put my life on hold when I got into surgery because I knew it would be a long haul and I wanted to stay balanced. In 2nd year, I married my amazing husband and this year, we welcomed our daughter into our family. Balancing a surgical career and family is hard, full stop. I don’t always succeed but I do give it my best effort and I think the struggle is worth it. Each part of my life inspires the other: I feel like I can better relate to my patients by being a mother and wife myself. When I come home, I’m humbled by our privilege of good health and actively seek to celebrate les petites joies with my family that, because of my patients, I cannot take for granted.

Robin Visser and her husband

5) Do you have any call superstitions or routines?

Yes, absolutely. First and foremost, one must never say the word Q-iet. Ever. I can’t even type it because I’m on call as I write this. Secondly, one of the first things I do when I start a call shift is wander around the hospital to see who else is on over night. This is partly to know who’s around in case I need to call them later about a patient and partly to inquire if anyone wants to order dinner with me. Food acquisition is the first step to eating, even if you don’t get to eat right away. Lastly, I always grab a hand towel from the ward linens when I finally get to hit the call room. I put it over the pillow so I don’t have to sleep with the plastic right next to my face. It’s the one call room hack that I wish I’d figured out sooner because it has made a big difference in how comfortably I sleep at the hospital.

6) 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?

I think my advice would come in 3 parts:

First: All for one, one for all. You will never make it across the finish line if you don’t do it as a team. The team is everything, it has to come first. Be altruistic, help out whenever you can. Show kindness. Use your strengths and know your weaknesses. Learn to ask for and accept help when it’s your turn. Geese don’t fly south by always being in the same position within the V. They take turns being the lead and then enjoying the draft. You’re all on the same journey, get there together.

Second: Be grateful for hardship. Laundry doesn’t become clean by lying around on the bed. It has to be put in hot water, tumbled around, spun down, and hung up to dry. The mentors who are the hardest on you are the ones who will make you better. Compliments, while nice, rarely improve you. Criticism, while uncomfortable, can transform you- provided that you are open to it. Tough call nights with difficult cases are exhausting but that’s where you learn the most. So be grateful for hardship.

Third: Acknowledge the privilege you have in hearing patients’ most intimate details of their lives, in knowing their bodies in a way their mothers and fathers / husbands and wives will never know, and be humbled by the trust they put in you to guide them on their journey. There is no room for ego here. Treat every patient like they are your mother. Cut away their disease meticulously. Sew them back together tenderly. Attend them on the ward perioperatively in order to rejoice in their healing and grieve in their setbacks. They are the heart of what you do. Never forget that.

7) Rapid fire:

What do you listen to in the OR?

I have pretty eclectic tastes in music, so almost anything is ok unless it’s classic rock.

What is the operation you dislike the most?

Breast lumpectomy.

What is the operation you like the most?

Ooh, that’s tough. I don’t know if I can choose between a liver resection and a whipple. Ask me again after fellowship.

What is your favourite medical TV show?

Scrubs. I’ve only ever watched the first season but it was uncanny in its accuracy.

What is your go-to surgery textbook?

Top Knife when I’m on trauma call and Schein’s Common Sense series for acute care surgery.

Favourite post-call activity?

Spending time with my family. Often, this involves cycling or going cross-country skiing together.

What is your favourite “go-to” food on call?

Vegetarian sushi, because it’s not going to get cold or spoil if you can’t eat it right away.

White coat or hoodie?

100% hoodie. I can’t remember the last time I wore my white coat.

Single or Double Glove?

Depends on the patient… but usually single glove.

Dry scrub or wet scrub?

Wet scrub. I love the wet scrub.

Trauma laparotomy or elective Whipple?

Whipple J

Inexperienced junior resident or inexperienced ER staff?

Inexperienced junior. I like to teach.

Open inguinal hernia repair or laparoscopic?

Open inguinal hernia repair or laparoscopic?

Monocryl or skin staples?


Perianal abscess I+D or ingrown toenail?????

Toenail! I love doing toenails! So satisfying.

Robin Visser and family