Resident Leadership – Lessons Learned

Claire McDaniel, MD | Liana Tedesco, MD

September 22, 2021


One of the most important lessons we have learned when it comes to being a leader is that you must understand your team in order to get the best result. In some situations, leading by example may be the most appropriate. In other situations, clear directions to team members may be needed for optimal results. Being a physician is being a leader. Within the hospital, physicians are the team captains. In the operating room, the surgeon is also the quarterback.  Situational awareness is paramount to being a leader. Though being a leader may not come naturally to all residents, if you remember the common goal of the team, you can be most effective.  

Junior Resident

  • Workhorse → getting to the end goal smoothly
    • Being the junior on a team can sometimes feel as if you’re plugged into a set role, and frequently one focused more on logistics than practicing orthopaedics. However, you play a critical role to team function and to patient care. Your team will function better, and your patients will have better care, if you are proactive and efficient in making sure that the day’s workflow is executed effectively. Getting to the end goal smoothly is a sign of early leadership that does not go unnoticed. 
  • Medical Students/Interns → expectations 
    • As a junior resident, this may be the first time that you are in a supervisory role on a team. Whether it is medical students on rotation or other less senior residents, there will be members of your team that will look up to and emulate you.  While you might not be leading the team yet, it is important even in the first years of training to embody the best qualities of leadership. 
  • Recognizing good leaders you have worked with before
    • As you progress through your training, you will have the opportunity to be exposed to the often-varied leadership styles of your co-residents and attendings. You will see which methods are successful, and which ones don’t produce the highest functioning team. Learn from your mentors, recognize good leaders that you have worked with before, and begin to craft your own personal leadership style. 

Senior Resident

  • Leadership style
    • Before you can be a leader, you must understand your own leadership style. Are you democratic? Are you the coach? Are you Laissez-Faire? A mix of a few? The best leader is one who knows when and how to effectively use different styles. Being the senior resident for the consult resident determining ER care requires different leadership skills than teaching an intern how to do an intramedullary nail in the operating room. It is critical to know how and when to employ the appropriate style. Having the appropriate technical knowledge and/or the right emotional response requires you to tap into different aspects of your own training, so being able to navigate and jump between styles is crucial to being a successful leader.
  • Be present and engaged
    • As the senior resident on the team, you have a new set of responsibilities. You are no longer merely responsible for executing tasks, you are now the one making plans. As a newly appointed team captain, you are also responsible for managing the members of your team. You must understand the players and learn their strengths and weaknesses.  Being a leader means helping your team function at their best to achieve a common goal. Be present for your team and they will know you are invested in developing them. 
  • Resident Liaison
    • The senior resident often acts as the arbiter between the resident team and the attendings. In this position, effective communication is critical. When issues arise, be open and honest. Mistakes will happen – you may make them and your team may stumble at times. The best thing you can do is create an environment where juniors can fail and learn from that experience. It’s important to foster an engaged culture where your team knows you have their back. In residency and throughout your career, reputation is paramount. 
  • You are not on an island!
    • Being a leader isn’t always easy. You have worked with residents who are now fellows, fellows who are now attendings, and young attendings. These near-peer mentors are excellent resources for when you are struggling to get the result you want. Reach out authentically to those you admire and ask their advice when difficult situations arise. Also don’t be afraid to share your wins!

DISCLOSURES: Dr. McDaniel a close family member who works for Ferring Pharmaceuticals (makes Euflexxa). Dr. Tedesco This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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