Trainee Profile Spotlight


Robin Friedman
Cooper University Health Care, General Surgery Residency
Beaumont Health, Colon and Rectal Surgery Fellowship

What made you interested in a career in colorectal surgery? 
Going into general surgery residency I knew I wanted to do something that involved surgical treatment of malignancy. I was fortunate enough to have early exposure to colorectal surgery and fantastic mentors. I enjoyed the multidisciplinary aspect of the field in addition to the various modalities to technically address patient's pathology. I also enjoy the variety and the day-to-day schedule from being in the operating room to being in the endoscopy suite.
 

How did you find mentors in colorectal surgery? 
I had three wonderful mentors during my residency at Cooper University Hospital. Early on they invited me to join their research projects and attend local and national meetings. I believe mentorship is key no matter what field you decide to go into. 
 

Did you get involved in ASCRS as a general surgery resident or attend the annual meeting? How did that impact you? 
I began attending the ASCRS national meetings and the Pennsylvania Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons meetings my second year of residency. I found that colorectal surgery even on a national level to be a very collegial field. I had the opportunity to present my research, keep up to date on evolving recommendations and meet past and present leaders of the field. I enjoy being surrounded by surgeons who share my love for colorectal surgery and are at all different levels of their career. They transmit a welcoming, positive and encouraging atmosphere that promotes the sharing of experiences and expansion of knowledge
 

What were the factors that determined where you applied?
I chose to apply to programs that would help me further develop my minimally invasive colorectal surgery skills. I felt like I had great open experience from residency but I wanted additional laparoscopic and robotic training.
 

What made you unique as an applicant? 
I think my palpable passion for the field really showed on my interviews and I imagine through my letters of recommendations. I have wanted to be a colorectal surgeon since intern year and I made that very well known throughout my training.
 

How did you approach writing a personal statement? 
I found that writing my personal statement for fellowship came very naturally. I kept mine very simple and stated why I wanted to be a colorectal surgeon and what kind of colorectal surgeon I wanted to be.
 

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation, and why did you pick them? 
I took a very standard approach and asked two of my colorectal mentors, my program director and my chairman for letters of recommendation. 
 

What did you look for in a colorectal residency program? 
I looked for a program that would really help me hone in on my minimally invasive skills. Additionally, I wanted to go to a program where I felt like the surgeons were truly invested in developing their trainee. 


What piece of advice would you give a general surgery resident interested in colorectal surgery? 

I suggest getting as involved in the field as you can. Find one or two strong mentors and see if you can collaborate on a clinical research project. I found research to be a great entry into meetings and networking. I was able to get a good sense of the profession by surrounding myself by other colorectal surgeons. 
 



David Palange
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, General Surgery Residency
Albany Medical Center, Colorectal Residency

 

David-Palange.jpgWhat made you interested in a career in colorectal surgery? 

I became interested in a career in colorectal surgery early on during my general surgery residency at Rutgers NJMS. I was fortunate enough to gain exposure to the field as an intern. As I continued through my training, I quickly realized that I was happiest treating colorectal disease processes. Colorectal surgery also allows for open, laparoscopic, endoscopic, and robotic surgery with a large variety of surgeries to master. Finally, my father had colon cancer at age 38 and was guided through his treatment by his colorectal surgeon. This left a lasting impression on me and helped shaped the surgeon I have become. I have been a big proponent of colon and rectal cancer screening ever since.
 
Did you get involved in ASCRS as a general surgery resident or attend the annual meeting? How did that impact you? 
I got involved in ASCRS as a general surgery resident. I was able to use the CREST videos to learn about colon and rectal surgery. I attended the 2019 meeting in Cleveland Ohio and was able to meet and learn from many leaders in the field. I also presented original research for the 2020 and 2021 annual scientific meetings on the effects of Rib Raising (an osteopathic manipulative medicine treatment) on post-operative ileus and modified frailty index score for assessing outcomes in Hartmann’s reversals. The impact of ASCRS helped confirm that I had chosen the right surgical specialty, allowed me to grow as a researcher and gave me the confidence to pursue a fellowship in colon and rectal surgery.
 

What made you unique as an applicant? 
Every applicant is unique. It’s our life experiences, personality and personal goals that make us stand apart. Personally, I focused on my previous career as a researcher, my desire to teach medical students and residents, my goal of becoming a program director and ultimately becoming a well-rounded colon and rectal surgeon. I used my personal experiences to highlight how I would achieve these. I would focus on what motivates you to become a colon and rectal surgeon and focus on what qualities you possess to get there.
 

How did you approach writing a personal statement? 
My approach to writing a personal statement was to write about how experiences throughout my life had influenced me into a career in Colon and Rectal Surgery. I thought of the personal statement as a story of what I had been through, how they contributed to my decision to become a colorectal surgeon and how I could help advance/contribute to colon and rectal surgery in the future.
 

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation, and why did you pick them? 
When deciding who I would ask for letters of recommendations, I thought of surgeons I had worked closely with that knew me not only on a work/educational level but also on a personal level. I also asked physicians that had mentored and guided me throughout my surgical residency.
 

What did you look for in a colorectal residency program? 
When looking at colorectal residency programs, I put the biggest emphasis on the amount and variety of cases. As a future colon and rectal surgeon, I wanted to make sure that during my fellowship I would see the vast majority of colon and rectal surgery. I looked for programs with large case numbers/variety, that allowed autonomy in the operating room and would give me the best chance to learn and grow as a surgeon. I also looked for attendings / staff that I could see myself working with and learning from. These attendings will be your mentors and shape you as a surgeon. It is important to find the right fit. When looking at programs remember one year is a short time to learn colon and rectal surgery and you must make it count.
 
 

What piece of advice would you give a general surgery resident interested in colorectal surgery? 
I would advise any general surgery resident interested in colorectal surgery to fully immerse themselves in the field during there colorectal surgery rotations. To gain as much operative, clinic and hospital experience when deciding if a career in colon and rectal surgery is for them. One of the best pieces of advice I was given from one my mentors was that you must enjoy what you perceive as the worst aspect of your specialty. If you can look yourself in the mirror each morning and come to work prepared for your patients, even when it’s the worst aspect of your specialty, you have chosen the correct path.

 



Valery Vilchez, MD
General Surgery Resident, Cleveland Clinic
Colorectal Surgery Fellowship, University of California, Irvine

 

valery-vilchez.jpgWhat made you interested in a career in colorectal surgery? 

Colorectal Surgery always felt like home within the surgical field. As a General Surgery Resident I have been exposed to phenomenal mentors that have taught me the wonders of this specialty. The complexity and variety of the diseases and procedures have a magic combination.
 

What piece of advice would you give a general surgery resident interested in colorectal surgery? 

Get involved with co-residents and mentors interested in the field. Read and study the disease processes. Spend time in the operating room in different settings. Most importantly, look in the mirror and ask yourself if you can wake up every morning and treat the colorectal patient population giving all you have every single day of your career.
 

What made you unique as an applicant? 

Everyone is unique as an applicant. One piece of advice I would give to anyone interested in the field is to find the specific characteristic that makes you an outstanding physician and surgeon and use it as your signature. Look for the program and mentors that will bring the best out of you every single day.
 

Who did you ask for letters of recommendation, and why did you pick them? 

Ask for letters from the mentors who know you out and inside the operating room. Those that know your weakness but know that you can overcome any of them. I personally had LORs from my PD, the Chair of the Colorectal Department, the PD of the Colorectal Fellowship and two of my mentors within the department. I have worked closely with these mentors and it was easy for them to support my application. It is important to have LORs from your PD but also from Colorectal Surgeons within your institution who can vouch for your hard work during residency.