Spotlight on Graduating Chief Resident Dr. Simon Lavotshkin

Simon Lavotshkin, MDRecently, we completed a series of interviews speaking with our graduates in the general surgery residency program to find out what their experience was like and what their plans were for the future. Here is the story of Simon Lavotshkin, MD and his advice for young residents.

Q: How long have you been here at Columbia?

Dr. Lavotshkin: My situation is a little unusual as I came to Columbia as a senior resident. I began my residency at Maimonides Medical Center and I have been at Columbia now for two years, completing my fourth and fifth year here.

Q: Did you end up focusing in a particular area?

Dr. Lavotshkin: Like all my fellow graduates, I completed my residency in general surgery. While my plan was always to go into surgical oncology, I chose to spend my residency getting experience in every aspect of general surgery. I felt it was important to my development as a surgeon to acquire as many diverse skills as possible. I have the rest of my career to focus on cancer but I had my residency to explore and learn all aspects of surgery.

Q: As a result of your studies here what specialty would you hope to continue in?

Dr. Lavotshkin: At the start of my residency, working with cancer patients and cancer surgery appealed to me so I wanted to explore surgical oncology further. For the first two years, I worked in the Laboratory of David Lyden at Cornell and my experience there truly solidified my interest in surgical oncology, specifically abdominal cancer.

Q: What are your immediate career plans when you graduate from the Surgical Residency Program next week?

Dr. Lavotshkin: In June, I will be starting my fellowship in surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California. I will be focusing on abdominal cancer, but also gaining experience in melanoma, sarcoma, and breast cancer. Jen Lin, MD, another graduate of our residency program, studied at this institute and Bret Taback, MD, one of our current attendings, was a former graduate.

So far, I have been there twice and I have fallen in love with the area! I am greatly impressed with the Institute – especially the surgeons, facilities and ambulatory services. In particular, I chose this institute because they require two years, but strongly encourage a third year specifically dedicated to research. I am looking forward to my time there.

Q: What aspect of your time here will you miss?

Dr. Lavotshkin: More than anything I will miss the camaraderie amongst the residents and attendings. I have experienced other programs but Columbia truly had an amazing group with a special connection. You work closely with these people for years — multiple days a week and for very long hours — and you go through many life-altering experiences. It brings you closer together. I will miss them and will definitely keep in touch.

Q: Is there a lesson or moment that has defined your residency?

Dr. Lavotshkin: One lesson that helped my transition between junior and senior resident was the ability to plan and think ahead in respect to going to the operating room. When making decisions about operating on a patient, I immediately start planning in my head: what will I do during the operation? By planning in advance, it made me decide if I would be able to help my patient in the operating room and made me better prepared. It is a change from relying on your seniors and attendings to acting as the leading attending yourself.

Q: What advice would you give to a new resident entering the residency program?

Dr. Lavotshkin: The thing about being a doctor, in particular a surgeon, is that it is a great privilege; however, it can be reminiscent of the Spiderman movie quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Sometimes, I feel that responsibility can weigh heavy on a resident, especially when they’re just starting out. New residents may look at their seniors and attendings and wonder why they’re not there yet. They have to remember though it’s a process. Even the most senior attendings had a journey to where they are today. Young residents need to remember it will all come together if they do the right things. What are the right things? They are:

    • To be dedicated.
    • To treat patients the way they would want to be treated.
    • Ask for help when they need it.
    • Make time to read the surgical texts often, both textbooks and literature. You would be surprised how consistently scheduling 15-20 minutes a day or an hour a week – whatever time you can schedule – will strengthen your interaction with your patients.
    • Also, making time for outside interests as well because you’re dedicating 5-7 years of your life to your career. You can’t put your life on hold for that amount of time and if you do, you may come to regret it.

If I were to summarize my advice to new residents:

    Remember that this is a career that you have chosen. Through your hard work and everything you put into it, you achieved this residency position. You should be proud of yourself and enjoy it.

Q: How did you keep your sense of determination? How did you avoid burn out?

Dr. Lavotshkin: I am lucky – I absolutely love my job and that helps me keep in sight what’s important. While I’m there, I remind myself I am there because I want to be there.

People react to stress differently though. I have seen residents become overwhelmed because many times, they are overly concerned with what their attendings or senior residents think. At the end of the day, they are in this career for one purpose: taking care of sick patients. Having that in mind helps keep everything in perspective.