We Sure Made a Lot of Friends: General Surgery's Graduating Residents Reflect on Their Time at Stony Brook

This week marks the completion of surgical residency for six of our Stony Brook General Surgery doctors. These graduates are an impressive group with diverse experiences and varied pre-medical backgrounds. As a way of celebrating the completion of their residency, we reached out to our department chair for his thoughts and to the residents for their comments on this current accomplishment and plans for the future.

"Residency is a transformational period for every physician. Surgical training is particularly demanding and at times challenging both physically and mentally. The training of the next generation of surgeons is one of the most important missions of our Department. We have strived over the years to create an educational environment that allows our residents to develop their clinical and technical skills to their full potential and come out of their training ready to face any professional challenges. We are very proud of what our graduating residents have achieved. This particular class had to cope with the additional stress and challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic posed and it was during those difficult times that they shined the most! We wish them every success in their personal and professional lives. They are an exceptional group!"--Dr. Apostolos Tassiopoulos, Professor and Chairman of Surgery, Chief, Division of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, Chief, Surgical Services, Stony Brook Medicine, Director, Stony Brook Vascular Center, and Co-Director, Stony Brook Aortic Center

All six graduates (in alphabetical order), Jocellie Marquez, Joseph Obeid, Juyeon Park, Bryan Robins, Heitham Wady and Ross Weller, were given the same five questions and asked to reflect on their journey and offer advice to current and future residents. All spoke about camaraderie, working as a team, taking advantage of every option available to you during your residency and making sure there's always time for fun.

Stony Brook 2023 Surgery Graduating Residents

Please provide a brief background of your education/training leading up to your residency with Stony Brook Surgery.
Jocellie Marquez, one of our graduates with a pre-Stony-Brook New York connection, graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and then received her Bachelor of Science (BS) in Chemistry, with honors, and a minor in Writing from Syracuse University. She earned her Medical Degree from Stony Brook University's School of Medicine and then, between her second and third year of residency, completed her MBA in Healthcare Administration from Stony Brook University's College of Business.

Joseph Obeid started his journey in Lebanon where he completed a Bachelor's in Physics at the American University of Beirut and then, in 2013, graduated from the University of Balamand Medical School in Lebanon. After his move to the United States, he began carrying out liver transplant surgery research at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. His next stop, before beginning his General Surgery training at Stony Brook, was in a Surgical Oncology T32 Research position at the University of Virginia.

Juyeon Park was surprised when she ended up on Long Island after Match Day. After all, the Virginia native attended the University of Virginia as a Neuroscience undergrad and then, as part of their 5th graduating class for medical school, she completed her degree at Virginia Tech's Carilion School of Medicine. She credits her third-year rotation as a deciding factor to focus on surgery.

Bryan Robins' path to Stony Brook residency has led him through stops at a number of impressive institutions, beginning with his Bachelor's from the University of Maryland-College Park's honors program in Neuroscience and Physiology. After a two-year stint as a research assistant in joint disease at NYU Langone Hospital, he graduated from Chicago's Rush Medical College in 2017 and was a preliminary general surgery intern at the University of California, San Francisco, for 1 year before becoming a Stony Brook Categorical Resident.

Heitham Wady, whose parents are first-generation immigrants--and his greatest source of inspiration--grew up in a diverse background where he witnessed the reality of healthcare disparities in his community. This exposure inspired him to work in medicine. After graduating as his high school's salutatorian, he attended New York University on a scholarship and studied Math and Chemistry. He then returned to Upstate New York to attend medical school and, in his third year, he realized surgery was his calling. His path then wound up at Stony Brook.

Ross Weller's post-college career started in education where he was an English teacher in the Bronx for five years after earning his degree in English and Education from Swarthmore College. He then attended SUNY Upstate for medical school before transferring to Loyola Stritch in Chicago.


What were your favorite experiences during your Stony Brook residency?
Dr. Marquez's favorite experience from her residency inspired her to pursue a two-year plastic surgery research fellowship. She participated in international surgical mission trips to Ecuador (Pediatric Surgery's Dr. Richard Scriven is a frequent volunteer on these missions), for volunteer-organization Blanca's House, where she helped treat underserved patients, including children with congenital cleft lip and palate deformities.

Dr. Obeid summed up his experience in one simple, but heartfelt sentence, "We sure made a lot of friends."

Dr. Park stressed that while residency was hard--mentally and physically taxing at times--she credits the bonding moments with her fellow residents and attendings for getting her through. She fondly remembers the late-night crepes with the trauma team and pondering the meaning of life during challenging cases.

Dr. Robins also mentioned the camaraderie of his co-residents, especially during the rough COVID ICU times they experienced, but the favorite part of his residency is looking at how much he's grown and how his experiences have confirmed his desire to be a surgeon. The joy he found by taking care of patients and trying to make a lasting impact on their lives will stick with him forever, he recounted.

Dr. Wady also enjoyed his time with his colleagues, whom he now considers family, and has many fond memories of fun times and shenanigans, which he says should probably not be mentioned in print (your secrets are safe with us, Heitham). His favorite moments, though, were teaching junior residents, fostering relationships with his mentors and learning how to be a well-rounded physician.

Dr. Weller's favorite experiences echo most of his colleagues'. He cited resident rounds and patient education, the high-stakes teamwork and camaraderie gained during stressful moments, and the pride of his family for his accomplishments.


Can you offer any advice for current and future Stony Brook Surgery residents?
Dr. Marquez' advice focused on how much Stony Brook's program offers to help create well-rounded surgery residents. She urged residents to develop a relationship with a faculty mentor, in the same sub-specialty they are interested in, as a valuable resource to help navigate through residency. In addition, she recommended taking advantage of academic enrichment opportunities such as participating in research projects, volunteering for medical missions, joining committees and attending conferences. She strongly believes that these tools combined with hard work, perseverance and the passion to serve those in need will help achieve every goal.

Dr. Obeid recommended that residents embrace all experiences, no matter how difficult, and use them as essential learning experiences.

Dr. Park stressed fun, family and laughter for residents to deal with the hard days and to enhance their time at Stony Brook. She believes it's important to make time for family, friends and a life outside of work and, because of Stony Brook's opportune location, exploring New York City and Long Island is a priority on the to-do list.

Dr. Robins emphasized the need for residents to work hard and absorb every moment of the residency, as it will make them a better physician and surgeon. While availability, accountability and affability are keys, he stressed that being prepared is the most important. This ranges from the basics of knowing why the patient is in the OR, knowing how to position, clip, prep and drape the patient; what lines or tubes they might need, and showing compassion in pre-op and post-op clinical care. He reminded residents to remember that they will one day be responsible for all of this.

Dr. Wady also spoke about absorbing knowledge and recommended that residents keep an open mind as they take in as much training as possible, which will allow them to choose a preference of techniques and approaches to use in their own practice. He suggested that they should strive for perfection, which they won't achieve, but by pushing and demanding more of themselves, they will become the best surgeon they can be.

Dr. Weller agreed with the idea of valuing joy and humor, especially as a mechanism for countering the stress, and sometime tragic moments, of being a surgeon.


Do you have any additional thoughts regarding your experiences as a Stony Brook Surgery Resident?
Dr. Marquez applauded the way the Stony Brook University General Surgery Residency program allows residents to adapt their experience around sub-specialty goals. As an example, she points to her academic enrichment years as a Plastic Surgery Research Fellow when she was able to collaborate on dozens of posters and podium presentations, author or co-author multiple publications, receive research grants and receive the 2019 Stony Brook University Esther Rentas Outstanding Research Scholarship Award.

Dr. Park took Woody Allen's quote ("Eighty percent of success is showing up.") one step further and stressed the importance of showing up to EVERYTHING. Her best experiences, she recalls, were just because she showed up. "Be present, and life will just happen," she mused.

Dr. Robins spoke about the importance of residents developing working relationships, doing things that others won't do (such as PEGS, wound care, etc.) and presenting themselves in a positive light. He reminds residents that when they one-day have a practice of their own, referrals will be their lifeblood, and if people think you are unlikable or difficult to work with they won't refer their patients to you.

Dr. Wady provided perhaps the most touching sentiment for the residents when he said, "Open your heart towards those around you and, even before being a good surgeon, focus on being a good person." He reminds residents that the entire hospital team is important to providing successful patient care and that the only enemy is the disease or ailment afflicting the patient.


What are your post-graduation plans?
Dr. Jocellie Marquez will continue her surgical training at the Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC) Burn Surgery Fellowship in July 2023 and then as part of the Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC)/Stony Brook University Plastic Surgery Residency Program in July 2024.

Dr. Joseph Obeid will begin a Cardiothoracic Surgery fellowship at Temple University in Philadelphia starting in August.

Dr. Juyeon Park will begin a Minimally Invasive Surgery/Adv GI Surgery/Bariatric Surgery fellowship in Knoxville, Tennessee in August.

Dr. Bryan Robins hopes to join a community General Surgery practice after he completes a Minimally Invasive Colon and Rectal Fellowship at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas.

Dr. Heitham Wady will complete his medical training with a colorectal fellowship in Alleghany in Pennsylvania. And, in a comment that seems joyfully apropos of a child of immigrants and full of inspiration, he said, "After that, anything is possible."

Dr. Ross Weller will be joining the General Surgery practice at NYU Langone Health/Long Island Community Hospital.


The Department of Surgery thanks our six graduating General Surgery residents for their time with this article and wishes them the best of luck in their future endeavors. We hope their words of wisdom, advice and pure, honest sentiments will help future residents, so that at the end of their time at Stony Brook they too will not only be skillfully prepared as surgeons, but will also be able to say, "We sure made a lot of friends."

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