Review Detail

by John Langland     August 12, 2007    
(Updated: October 23, 2007)
Overall rating 
Staff Surgeons 
Operating Experience 
Clinical Experience 
Overall Experience 

St. Mary's Residency Program

Program Review

Staff / Faculty / Chairman
Faculty are very friendly and some are very enthusiastic about teaching, but others not so much. Biggest names are Hsu and Zucherman, co-inventors of the X Stop. These two guys cashed in on their invention, millions and millions, and operate now for pure enjoyment and not out of necessity for the cash. Dr. McGann is fairly new as Chair and is sincerely devoted to the residency program. He has a strong desire to make big improvements. Very approachable and friendly, just what you would want in a Chair of the Department. Surgeons at Highland Hospital and Kaiser, both in Oakland, seem friendly enough but I had little contact with them during my rotation. I gave this program a seven for Staff Surgeons only because they are not the big names you will find at Univeristy Hospitals.
Didactics / Teaching
Didactic sessions are resident run and still need a lot of work. They are working on getting 50% attending taught sessions, but its not happening yet. The presentations could use some more polishing and discussion needs to be kept to a minimum. Most sessions turned into a "look how much I know" experience that dragged on for hours longer than necessary.
Operating Experience
Operating experience is top notch. Residents get to do a large percentage of the procedures at St. Mary's. Only one fellow at St. Mary's, who is on the Spine service, so no need to worry about losing out on your OR experience to an overabundance of fellows. At Highland Hospital, second year residents get their own ORs and operate a ton. Some complained that it is a little scary and overwhelming at first with all the responsibility they are given so early on, but the learning curve is fast and you become a confident surgeon quickly. I didn't get any OR experience at Kaiser, but it is supposed to be good there as well. You will not get a better OR experience at any other residency program.
Clinic Experience
At St. Mary's, clinic is limited to Sports, Joints and Spine, but the experience was solid. At Highland and Kaiser, you will see a much greater variety of patients. At Highland, the residents run the show several days a week and a few attendings are around just to supervise. As a medical student, I did more in this clinic than in any other rotation of any type. A great experience for me! Apparently, Oakland Kaiser takes on a lot of unique cases so you will get to see a lot of zebras mixed in among the regular horses.
Research Opportunities
The program is not known for its research. Faculty do write some papers, but it is pretty much limited to clinical stuff. Don't expect to do much basic science research here. Dr. McGann is trying to increase the research experience and things may be improving over the next few years. Most residents do their research during second year, usually just a few months, but you can probably do as much as you want if you would just ask.
The residents are extremely happy there. They are very friendly and committed to their program. For the most part, they really enjoy teaching. In the OR, they are all very sharp and this is expected with the great surgical experience they get. Most are married, but a few are still single and out partying it up. Overall, a great group to work with.
Lifestyle is the best I have seen. The hours at St. Mary's are fairly light, and nobody gets to the hospital before 6:30AM (except the rotating medical students). Days frequently end at a decent hour, although the didactic sessions occur late afternoon twice a week and can drag on somewhat late. Hours are definitely longer at Highland Hospital and I am unsure about Kaiser.
Location / Housing
What you have to decide is where you are going to live. St. Mary's is in SF, but you only rotate there four months a year on average. The other eight months are spent in Oakland, on the other side of the SF Bay, at Highland Hospital and Kaiser. Living in SF can be a drag with housing costs, traffic, parking and the cold and foggy weather, but many people love it there. If you choose to live in SF, you will be commuting over the Bay Bridge many months out of the year, using more gas, and paying daily bridge tolls. Oakland is a much rougher area, but the rents are also cheaper. Not nearly as nice as living in SF, but it does cut down on the commute time and gas expenses for a big part of the year. There are other places to live in East Bay besides Oakland too, but you will be driving farther to get to St. Mary's when you are rotating there. Just depends on what you want.
Overall Rotation Experience / Conclusion
Overall, it was a very solid experience. There are big trade-offs if you select this program, with the positives being a fabulous operating experience and probably the best lifestyle you could hope to achieve during residency, and the negatives being lesser known faculty, lower level of research opportunities and just average didactic sessions. These negatives may be improving in the years to come though. Because this is a small program, only three spots per year, most interviews go to medical students who rotate there, but non-rotators do get invited too and sometimes even match there.


I rotated as a medical student at this program
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