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Residents Find University Hospitals a Rich Training Ground


Complex cases, high volumes, inclusive culture make UH’s academic medical center a perfect place for residency, fellowships

When Tasveer Khawaja, MD, began his internal medicine residency at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in 2020, he sought a brisk pace and a diverse experience from this academic medical center. He wanted to work with leaders in his field and see everything possible to chart his path in medicine.

UH was beyond all he could have imagined.

“I was looking for a place that was the right balance between academic rigor, positive culture and collegiality,” said Dr. Khawaja, one of five chief residents for the Department of Medicine’s 148 residents. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a place that highlights those two aspects better than Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals do.”

residents walking in hallway

UH Cleveland Medical Center trains more than 1,000 residents, making it one of the largest training hospitals in the country. Programs range from neurosurgery, ophthalmology, radiation oncology and otolaryngology to urology, OB/GYN, pathology and genetics. Besides medicine, among the largest programs are general surgery and anesthesiology, emergency medicine, neurology, pediatrics, orthopedic surgery, psychiatry and diagnostic radiology.

Residents benefit from UH having an inpatient cancer hospital (Seidman Cancer Center), a children’s hospital (UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital) and a maternity hospital (UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital) all on one campus, as well as a close relationship with the nearby VA Medical Center, the third largest inpatient VA hospital in the country.  

A culture of teaching

As a tertiary referral center and a Level 1 trauma center in a health system with 21 hospitals, including three joint ventures, UH provides a broad experience for a physician in training. An internal medicine resident will rotate through medical and cardiac intensive care units and outpatient clinics. They’ll see patients who’ve undergone liver, kidney or lung transplants. They’ll see common and rare cancers, stem cell transplants offered on an inpatient and outpatient basis and many patients enrolled in clinical trials.

A surgery resident will see everything from advanced endoscopy procedures to specialized cancer surgeries like pancreas, colorectal and breast not seen everywhere. On busier services, a resident surgeon might perform 50-60 cases per month. And a wide array of research opportunities abound.

“We have a great culture here, which makes learning and growing as a surgeon very easy,” said Jamie Benson, MD, a fourth-year surgical resident planning a fellowship in minimally invasive surgery. He appreciates the vast levels of expertise from attending physicians within each specialty, including vascular, thoracic and pediatric procedures. “It’s a very comforting and very supportive environment. I genuinely enjoy my training, which seems to be uncommon.”

Dr. Khawaja noted that unlike many other programs chosen by his medical school colleagues, he has the opportunity to learn from nine different subspecialty medicine teams. Residents remain involved in the care of even complicated patients, so they are learning at the highest level. He’s planning to pursue a fellowship in cardiology and looks forward to learning from leaders in the field at University Hospitals.

First-year resident Yusef Saeed, MD, references a particular rare disease, and notes that he’s already been directly involved in treating four different patients with this condition.

“Things I might have only read about in a textbook I’m actually seeing live, and it’s been tremendous for my learning,” Dr. Saeed said.

Residents are the backbone of UH’s inpatient services, said rising chief resident Olivia Rizzo, MD.

“I was empowered from Day 1 to be the primary person for all aspects of care for my patients,” Dr. Rizzo said. “I was challenged to make my own medical plans for them and then I was the one discussing our plan with them and calling their families to keep them in the loop. At the same time, I had senior residents and attendings who were giving me constructive feedback so that I could learn how to be a great doctor.”

A culture of caring

The culture of UH, which prides itself on practicing the Art of Compassion while applying the Science of Health, is set at the top by Chief Executive Officer Cliff A. Megerian, MD, FACS, Jane and Henry Meyer Chief Executive Officer Distinguished Chair. An otolaryngologist, Dr. Megerian completed his internship in general surgery and residency in otolaryngology at UH before going on to Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, for a research and clinical fellowship in otology and neurotology.

“The culture focuses on being inclusive and making sure that everyone involved is really taken care of and feels at home,” said Dr. Khawaja, who credits Department of Medicine Chair Robert Salata, MD, and Program Director Keith Armitage, MD, with creating an ideal learning environment. Both physicians are specialists in infectious diseases, frequently interviewed nationally throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Salata is an internationally recognized researcher in clinical trials who has received continuous NIH funding. Dr. Armitage has served as President of the Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine and is on the board of the National Residency Matching Program.

“The culture they set permeates throughout the program,” Dr. Khawaja added. “Residents here are treated as colleagues.”

First-year-resident Avery Sears, MD, PhD, notes that friends at other top-ranked institutions have far less contact with their program leaders than resident physicians at UH. In this collaborative culture that puts the patient first, nurses and other caregivers are empowered to speak up and advocate for their patients. Senior residents and fellows actively train new residents.

“UH has a strong advocacy in patient care,” Dr. Sears said. “There is a culture of teaching here and a strong tradition that stems from the top. Leadership is extremely dedicated, and it’s reflected in the house staff. We all have the same goal: to be advocates for our patients.”

A welcoming community

Residents swap notes with their colleagues across the country. And Dr. Khawaja can attest that when he consults with this cohort, he always comes away pleased.

“Our program is ahead of the game in so many ways,” said the chief resident. “The faculty is really invested in the success of our residents.”

Dr. Saeed matched at UH with his wife, who is also an internal medicine resident. He is impressed that his bosses are thoughtful about scheduling comparable intense or lighter rotations concurrently to ease the strain of the long hours. As a practicing Muslim, he’s also grateful his supervisors are understanding about allowing him time off on Friday afternoons for prayer services.

“They’re very welcoming,” Dr. Saeed said.

East Coast native Dr. Benson, who went to medical school at Rutgers University in New Jersey and took a preliminary one-year contract at a West Coast hospital before coming to Cleveland, felt the difference at UH from his first Uber ride to the hospital. The driver chatted him up and made him feel at ease immediately.

Like his fellow residents, he’s found Cleveland to be an affordable and livable city that is ethnically diverse and culturally accessible.

“Everyone here is very pleasant,” Dr. Benson said. “That Midwest culture is very obvious, everyone is very nice and supportive.”

Watch a brief video on what makes UH an exceptional place to train. Learn more about UH’s clinical training for medical careers.