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Resident Features

Chief Resident

Robert Staples is frank about the reason he chose the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.  “This place has an amazing reputation,” he says. “My program director at Columbia University said Washington University was one of the best programs in the country for orthopaedic surgery, so I wanted to see why.”

During his visit, Staples was impressed with approachable faculty coupled with a broad spectrum of cases within the numerous subspecialty disciplines. “I had realized earlier that I like surgery and I especially liked having variety in surgery. This department has everything from trauma to hand, spine, and oncology.”

Staples is exhilarated with the numerous hands-on opportunities he’s been exposed to. “In just a few months, I was one-to-one with an attending physician in the OR doing a procedure,” he says. “They supervised well, but I was able to do as much as I could. That was very exciting. I also was able to see consults in the ER, think things through on my own and come up with a plan before consulting with the attending. It’s that opportunity to be independent, advance my critical thinking skills and be taught by some of the best that makes this place great.”

Staples was a neuroscience major at Brigham Young University before going to Columbia University for medical school. Although he initially leaned toward oncology, it was while assisting with research on osteosarcoma that he became interested in orthopaedic surgery. “The training has been a great mix between research and education here,” he says. “On the research side, what’s really apparent is that there is a system in place to facilitate the Institutional Review Board process. We don’t have a lot of time in residency, so to add that smooth process to handle the paperwork side of things is great because other institutions are not as efficient. This is a well-run ship and it makes it easier to get involved in research.”

Equally as important as the quality of the residency program is the ease at which Staples’ family has acclimated to St. Louis. “St. Louis is different from New York,” he notes. “But we’ve found that although it’s not a large city, it’s large enough for everything we want to do.”

Among the best attributes of St. Louis, says Staples, is affordability. “I have a wife and a seven-month-old daughter. We were able to afford a house on a resident’s salary in a good neighborhood. My wife also really likes to see ballet and Broadway plays. St. Louis has those things. One of the great things about St. Louis is that it has the Midwest friendliness and the east coast type of culture we were familiar with before we moved.”

Staples also says the faculty and medical center are committed to helping residents and their families acclimate to the region. “The chairman chats with me in the hall and I can talk with any of the attendings, fellows, or other residents if I have questions. My feeling is that this department self-selects nice people with excellent academic credentials.”

The department also offers an extended holiday break for residents — five days off either around Christmas or New Year’s every year — to foster a good work-life balance. An added benefit for families is a the Washington University Medical Center Housestaff Auxiliary (WUMCHA), a large and active women’s group that draws spouses and significant others as well as female medical students, residents, fellows and attendings from across the medical center campus to participate in a wide variety of fun activities for adults, families, and children.

“All of these things make this place a wonderful place to learn and live because I’m happy and my family is happy,” says Staples. 


Fourth Year Resident

Michelle Gosselin, MD, isn’t shy when sharing her initial thoughts about moving to St. Louis for orthopedic residency training.

“I wasn’t from here. I grew up in Connecticut and went to undergraduate school (Yale) and medical school (Brown) on the east coast,” she says. “The Midwest really wasn’t on my radar initially but people kept telling me to check out the orthopedic training program at Washington University School of Medicine.”

What she saw during her very first visit turned her initial thoughts inside and out. “The interview day was impressive,” she recalls. “I was able to meet so many attendings and residents and I just couldn’t put any other program above this one. This is the best operative training program, with top names in every specialty and opportunities to work in hospital and clinic settings with a diverse population. It can’t be beat.”

During her interviews, she says, everyone made a point of telling her that she would have a resident and faculty mentor to support and guide her through her training. “It was a great feeling, almost like a family,” Dr. Gosselin says. “And when you match, you get sent the classic black jacket that everyone in the program wears. It felt like I belonged even before I got here.”

Dr. Gosselin is an avid runner, averaging 25 to 75 miles a week, depending upon her hectic schedule. Originally a soccer player in college, she was leaning toward sports medicine as a specialty — that is, until she completed a rotation in pediatrics. Now, as a third year resident, she is rotating through the high volume pediatric orthopedic clinic at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in St. Louis, adjacent to the Washington University Medical Center campus. During her two-month rotation, she and her colleagues have seen up to 60 children a day in the clinic. Now Dr. Gosselin is thinking about potentially combining sports medicine and pediatrics.  “It’s great to have such a comprehensive clinical and operative experience so early in residency.” she says.

Among the uncommon, an opportunity to work side by side with a renowned hand surgeon and fellow on a complex pediatric upper extremity case. “It was not cut and dry and there was a lot of intraoperative decision-making,” she says. “We stopped and brainstormed the best methods as a group. It was amazing to participate in this sort of intra-operative discussion and see how final decisions are made. The attendings are always willing to let us grow, both in skills and in understanding of treatment options.”

She adds, “What makes the program so refreshing is that we train with some of the top names in every subspecialty, yet they all are so incredibly approachable. They have an open door and are always willing to talk with you whether it be about orthopedics or life in general.”

A big believer in work-life balance, Dr. Gosselin thought about her passion for the ocean and her love of the outdoors. “While the ocean isn’t here,” she says with a laugh, “running is very portable and there are so many parks and places to go in St. Louis. There are tons of concerts and shows, major league sports and other activities that if you want to find something, you can pretty much find it here.

“The reality is that when I looked at lifestyle and location, I realized the caliber of the training program was much more important. To come here, get the best training in the country and to find a culture that values a work-life balance, that’s why I came. It’s been a great decision so far.”


Third Year Resident

“I was just three months into being a doctor and, with the guidance and support of a world-renowned attending, I was able to be a part of a total shoulder replacement procedure,” says Kristen Ploetze, MD. “That’s saying something about a truly hands on orthopedic residency experience.”

The ability to “jump in” and become immersed in surgical training almost from the get-go is what drew Dr. Ploetze to the orthopedic surgery residency training program at Washington University School of Medicine. She also was attracted to the departmental camaraderie visible in all subspecialties.

“This is not a program where you watch great surgeons operate,” she says matter-of-factly. “It’s an outstanding program that allows you to be hands on and become great. You are challenged yet encouraged every step of the way.”

A graduate of Notre Dame University and then Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Dr. Ploetze originally planned for a career in economics and then environmental health. When she became involved in research projects related to global health and infectious diseases, she switched to medicine. A short-two week rotation through orthopedic surgery while in medical school convinced her she was on the right track. A one-month orthopedic externship here followed. “It was so intellectually stimulating,” she recalls. “It was my dream school.”

The year she applied, something else also stood out as a “plus” for the program. “There were four strong, impressive females in their final year of residency here and there were female attendings in leadership positions. Washington University is a huge pioneer in gender equality and I saw that in this program and wanted to be a part of it.”

In the first year of her residency, Dr. Ploetze rotated through surgical ICU and general surgery before moving through rotations in trauma and plastics (hand) as well as the incredibly complex rotation of shoulder and elbow. “Our shoulder fellow who had trained elsewhere never did a total shoulder procedure during his entire five years of residency,” she says. “I realized quickly that you don’t get the same opportunities you have here in other places around the country.”

Dr. Ploetze is in the middle of a high volume rotation in orthopedic trauma. In an academic hospital designated as a Level I trauma center, she has transitioned rapidly from managing consults in the Emergency Department to actually managing patients all the way through surgery.

“We’re one-on-one with faculty handling a case and then, as we demonstrate knowledge and skill, we’re given more opportunities. Very much learning and demonstrating hands on progress in every rotation, every time.”