Guiding the Next Generation of Leaders

Judy Huang, MD
Judy Huang

Leadership

A neurosurgery residency program epitomizes the intersection of past, present, and future leaders of our field. Within each program lies the amalgamation of established expertise, current innovation, and promising advances in the practice of neurosurgery. Building upon the foundations of laboratory investigation advanced by Dr. Harvey Cushing and of surgical innovation promoted by Dr. Walter Dandy, the traditions of our past leaders remain evident with present-day faculty members who master their craft, advance the field, and disseminate their insights.

Training residents is a distinct chance to impact future generations of neurosurgeons and their innumerable patients, and Dr. Henry Brem, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine neurosurgery department chairman, leads our extraordinary faculty in fully embracing this incredible opportunity. It is an honor to serve as Program director, charged with creating a productive environment that supports each resident in their singular quest to transform from surgical novice to skilled neurosurgeon. Since residency training is a crucial time of experiential learning and exploration, a training environment encouraging fundamental appreciation of innovation and discovery primes the creation of future neurosurgical leaders.

Leading by example is paramount. Although initially tough for some residents to fully appreciate, technical skills must harmonize with numerous other abilities in order to develop into a successful neurosurgeon. Our duty as current leaders is to inspire and influence by modeling integrity, fortitude, teamwork, resilience, the highest standards of professionalism, and excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Trainees are impressionable, and our obligations to our patients and the public encompass more than teaching residents clinical knowledge and operative skills, but should also extend to fundamental values, as neurosurgeons are bestowed with relative societal influence by virtue of our capabilities to significantly impact human lives. It is our responsibility to consistently uphold and represent our professional ideals.

Neurosurgery residents are among the hardest-working individuals at any institution, constantly problem-solving and strained by demands from interdisciplinary team members, most of whom do not recognize the full extent of the residents’ workload. Serving as resident advocate, the Program director is in a unique position to represent the residents’ perspective to others.

Although resident conflict and stress may be inevitable, such pressures can be lessons for understanding wide-ranging organizational issues and practice demands that will be relevant in their futures. Maintaining the highest standards of excellence regardless of external forces is appreciated by the public, and striving for clinical excellence is essential throughout residency. Reinforcing the value of resident contributions to patient care and scholarly activity, and how these efforts relate to their future career path is beneficial in preventing burnout.

Helping to offer broader perspectives extending beyond the immediate hospital setting to neurosurgery at large assists trainees in formulating their individual vision of personal goals and how to accomplish them. Although demanding in time and effort, constant attention to widening their perspective and providing constructive criticism throughout their progression in the program is essential for their professional growth.

Certainly, serving as a sounding board for their ideas and aspirations in longitudinal career development, providing guidance to appropriate resources, and celebrating accomplishments are among the most rewarding aspects of serving as Program director. I am always thrilled to witness the achievements of graduates of our residency and medical school, and in addition, delighted to provide helpful advice in various challenging situations.

As each individual resident brings a unique background, personality, experiences, aptitudes, and priorities, it is important to recognize a residency program may not be “one-size-fits-all,” if you want to build upon individual strengths. This is strategic for both the residents and the program.

Furthermore, vital to the continued strength of the program is success in recruiting outstanding future residents. By nurturing learners of various levels, including undergraduates and medical students from around the world, Program directors’ interactions with residents and faculty can be highly productive. The prospect of mentoring enthusiastic early learners and developing future independent neurosurgeons is indeed enormously rewarding.

I am immensely proud of the remarkable achievements and tremendous potential of our program’s graduates and current residents.