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10 Questions with Mass. Eye and Ear Otolaryngology Residency Program Director

Focus sat down with Program Director Dr. Stacey Gray to get the ins and outs of the Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School Otolaryngology Residency Program.

  1. How is the Otolaryngology Residency Program structured?

The requirements for becoming an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, are set at a national level and include five years of training. As an intern in the first year, participants get exposed to ENT and other areas, such as general surgery, through training. The last four years of the program are solely concentrated on diving into each of our subspecialties of ENT care. This includes general and pediatric ENT, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck oncology, laryngology, otology and neurotology, rhinology, and thyroid and parathyroid surgery.

Our training program is collaborative with many of the Harvard-affiliated hospitals. The sponsoring institution is Mass. Eye and Ear, where residents spend the majority of their time. Every year, they do a combined rotation for at least 10 weeks at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. During their third year of training, they spend an additional 10 weeks at Boston Children’s Hospital.

We also offer one resident-research position each year, which results in a total of seven years of training. This resident spends an additional two years devoted entirely to research, which falls between years two and three of his or her residency.

  1. What makes this program special?

One thing that’s distinctive about our program is that Mass. Eye and Ear is one of the few freestanding ear, nose and throat hospitals in the country that has outpatient, in-patient and emergency room services. From a clinical standpoint, this provides a fairly unique training experience. Residents are able to experience training in an ENT-specific hospital, a children’s hospital and several large general hospitals.

The other piece that sets us apart is our opportunity for research involvement with clinical and basic science faculty throughout the Harvard system. Our residents spend at least 20 weeks during the course of their residency in research rotations and are required to complete a research project.

  1. Describe a day-in-the-life of a resident.

Depending on the rotation, a standard day starts with taking care of the patients staying in the hospital, which is called rounding, and determining a plan for the day. Residents then proceed to start their clinical duties, which involves going to the operating room or seeing patients in the clinic and/or emergency room. At the end of the day, they repeat their rounds and check in on the patients who are staying overnight.

  1. How does the program help balance those long days?

Dr. Stacey Gray.

Our goal is to support residents so that the training is enjoyable despite some of the usual stresses of residency. We encourage our classes to participate in activities together, such as taking a spin class or going out to dinner.

We also organize opportunities for each class to have weekends away to attend educational boot camps, dissection courses and national meetings. Not only is this beneficial from an educational standpoint, but it encourages camaraderie and gives residents time away from training to enjoy other aspects of life. 

  1. Outside of clinical duties, do the residents have other learning opportunities?

Yes, our residents have an educational curriculum. They come together every Thursday morning for our weekly grand rounds and a variety of other medical education presentations by faculty and visiting professors. There are also weekly resident-run lectures, journal clubs and case presentations for a smaller, more intimate learning environment. We encourage self-directed learning and residents plan these programs independent from the set curriculum.

We also have the Joseph B. Nadol, Jr., Otolaryngology Surgical Training Laboratory, which has been a huge addition to our program. Every year, we host formal cadaveric dissection courses geared toward different levels of training for all subspecialties. The lab is also always open to residents for practice – that freedom is huge for them.

  1. Tell us more about the research residents complete.

Residents are required to complete a longitudinal research project during their five years with us. During the first few years of training, we help them explore different options to find what’s most compelling to them. As second year residents, they participate in an “Issues in Research” course that helps solidify the different topics they might want to explore. Ultimately, they choose what research project to pursue.

They also have the opportunity to work with multiple institutions in the Boston area, including all of the Harvard-affiliated hospitals. There are even residents who have taken the opportunity to collaborate with other research facilities such as the Broad Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We want all of our residents to have the chance to develop a scholarly focus that they are passionate about.

  1. Where have these research projects gone?

Over the last few years, we’ve had at least one resident receive a CORE grant, which is awarded by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery every year. Our residents also typically present at either one or two national meetings per year and publish their work in academic journals.

  1. What do you look for in an applicant?

We aim to find people who enjoy working hard and within the context of a team. It’s important that our residents are highly collaborative, self-directed, operate independently and enjoy a stimulating environment. More than anything else, we want our residents to be compassionate, kind and professional physicians who are dedicated to patient care.

  1. What does the application process involve?

The application is through ERAS, which is an online warehouse for residency applications. Every institution is a little bit different, but for us, the application is due on October 1 each year. It requires three letters of recommendation, a medical school transcript, a curriculum vitae and a personal statement.

Once we review the applications, we invite approximately 45 applicants for interviews. Our interview committee is fairly large, incorporating faculty from different institutions as well as two current residents.

The night before interviews, applicants are invited to a dinner with all of our current residents to give them a chance to get to know our residents in a more casual environment and learn about our program from personal experiences. The day of the interview, applicants meet with a variety of our faculty members, followed by a lunch and tour.

  1. Why do you enjoy being the program director?

There are many reasons why I love overseeing our residency program. The biggest is the enjoyment I get watching residents mature, develop over  five years and eventually launch their professional careers. It is extremely rewarding to witness how successful our graduates are after they finish the program. I am incredibly proud of everything they accomplish and feel fortunate to be part of their training.

About Our Expert

In addition to directing the Otolaryngology Residency Program, Dr. Stacey Gray is the Vice Chair of Education at Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School. She’s also the Director of the Sinus Center at Mass. Eye and Ear, seeing patients at the Main Campus in Boston (243 Charles Street). 

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