I Want To Be a Residency Director – how Do I Get There?

William N. Levine, MD, FAAOS | Linda Suleiman, MD

October 13, 2021


The role of an Orthopaedic Surgery program director is to implement and oversee clinical education, residency selection, and retention. The ACGME requires that prospective program directors have at least three years of documented educational and/or administrative experience as a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon. Many may wonder what constitutes documented educational and administrative responsibilities. One can begin accruing these experiences early in residency. Here are some important considerations as a resident or faculty member interested in pursuing opportunities in medical education.

Medical Education Experiences:

1Get Involved with Your Residency Housestaff Association

Taking on a leadership role as a President, Vice President, or Committee Chair will allow you to build administrative skills across graduate medical education. Most institutions with housestaff associations invite the resident leadership to serve on the Graduate Medical Education Committee which serves as the governing body over and liaison with program directors.

2Serve on the Graduate Medical Education Committee (GMEC)

This committee develops and reviews policies and procedures that affect both ACGME-accredited and non-accredited training programs. This committee conducts reviews of residency programs both internal and external and frequently enlists the help of volunteers to participate in these review committees. This will teach you policies and procedures related to the accreditation of your program and program requirements prior to serving as a program director.

3Participate in Your Program’s Residency Education Committee

If your program does not have one – start one today! This committee serves as the sounding block for all rotations, proposed changes in rotations or attending coverage, new initiatives (introduction of international elective, for example), and as a tremendous opportunity for residents to have a significant impact in the direction of the residency program.

4Participate in Your Program’s Clinical Competency Committee

This committee evaluates resident/fellow performance and uses feedback, direct observation, and assessment tools to ensure that residents are prepared to practice orthopaedic surgery independently. The shared decision making amongst faculty will allow you to build skills and give you opportunities to understand how these assessments fit into the program’s educational strategies. Program directors ultimately are responsible for assessing a resident’s preparedness to practice without supervision. Being part of this committee will allow you to learn how one can assess a resident’s skills objectively and how to build on assessment tools.

5Be a Part of the Residency Selection Committee

A large part of the program director role is the recruitment of talented medical students to join the residency program. Most programs receive hundreds of residency applications (now, even over a thousand at many programs) for just a few orthopaedic spots. Participating as an application reviewer, interviewer, and/or selection committee member will allow you to learn one of the largest roles and responsibilities of a PD. It takes a considerable amount of insight to understand the needs of a program and which residents would be successful in your program.

6Seek Out Leadership Roles in Medical Education

One of the biggest pipelines to becoming a program director is serving as the assistant/associate program director or as the clerkship director for the orthopaedic 3rd and 4th year medical student rotations. This will allow you to take on some of the program director roles in a more manageable, focused, and smaller scale. Hone in on your organizational abilities and communication skills with students and residents. This is not an easy task and really will determine your leadership capabilities at a larger scale.

It’s never too early to start taking opportunities to build the requisite skills to be a program director. Take resident driven initiatives within your residency program whether its wellness events, OITE preparation lectures, technical skills workshops etc. It is important to be a role model for your residents and build lasting relationships.


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Levine is on the Columbia faculty, serves as Board or committee member for the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, and is on the editorial or governing board for the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Dr. Levine serves as an unpaid consultant to Zimmer Biomet. Dr. Suleiman serves on the Northwestern Faculty and as a Depuy consultant.

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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