Program Director Interview Series: Justin Puller, MD, FACEP Program Director at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center - Hamot

In the latest installment of our PD Q&A series, we are highlighting the UPMC Hamot Emergency Medicine Residency Program. We spoke with the current PD Dr. Justin Puller, MD, about what makes his program unique and what he looks for in potential residents.

What sets your program apart from others?

The clinical experience we offer is fantastic and unique. Absence of an in-house general surgery program makes us a level II trauma center (and is the only thing keeping us from being a level 1 center). Our residents receive longitudinal trauma training experience, functioning as the primary resuscitator 7 days/week, and averaging over three hundred trauma alert resuscitations per resident during training. Furthermore, since our residents do not see the entire patient volume in our ED, they are preferentially shunted toward better learning cases and more critical patients. This increases their ED critical care experience and increases their learning volume by almost two-fold compared to ED's that are resident run. Our residents see a large number of pediatric cases throughout their residency in a longitudinal experience—pediatric experience is not relegated to Peds ED/PICU rotations.

What is something students may not know about your program?

A) The way in which our program provides trauma training far exceeds the experience any resident could get at a level 1 center.

B) Feedback from our residents is the primary driver for change in our program and is highly valued.

C) We have our own cadaver lab for procedure training. 

How do you feel about the change to pass/fail Step 1 grading?

This change will not affect our program or recruitment methods. We have been using a holistic approach to applicant review since I became PD in 2014.

What kinds of opportunities for research exist? Do you look for residency candidates with research experience?

While research is not a large focus of our recruitment, we do offer great support for our residents as they complete the scholarly aspects of their training. We have our own PhD on staff whose focus is to support resident and faculty research (from project conception to publication). She will not do the project for you but is a wealth of information and support, especially for the novice. UPMC Hamot faculty have authored a book: “Research During Medical Residency: A How to Guide for Residents and Faculty Mentors.”

Do you have opportunities to explore global health at your institution?

We do, but it is not required. Our program offers two electives in the senior year which can be used for international electives. We have had residents in the past participate in rotations in Kenya, Nigeria, Australia, and currently have a resident working toward a rotation in Peru. I am happy to discuss the process with any student interested. 

What are some qualities that your program looks for in applicants?

A) We look for people who have a positive attitude and are enthusiastic about learning.

B) We look for people who will watch out for each other, work together well, care about each other and the future of the program.

C) We look for people who are willing to take personal responsibility for their learning and their patients. 

Can you describe any attributes and qualities that make applicants stand out?

My advice as you apply to residency is:

A) Use your signals wisely

B) Be truthful

C) Take responsibility for any hiccups or potential "red flags" that may be in your application. Most programs would rather have a hard worker who takes personal responsibility for themselves than someone with high board scores.

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