A General Surgery Intern’s Perspective on Residency

August 30, 2023

Meet PGY-1 General Surgery resident Dr. Mariah Cawthon and learn about her experience as a first-year resident below!

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from and what medical school you went to) and what made you decide to be a surgeon.

I am originally from Huntsville, Alabama (Roll Tide)! I went to George Washington University in Washington, DC for biomedical engineering. After college, I worked at a urologic oncologic laboratory at the National Cancer Institute, and I also scribed in the emergency room. Seeing how the experiments that I conducted directly correlated with patient care was a big part of why I became interested in medicine. I was also inspired by a mentor, an oncologic surgeon, who discovered six different types of kidney cancer and pioneered medical management for these cancers. While I loved my time in Washington, DC, I was excited to return south for medical school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, TN. All of my family is in the South, most of them in Tennessee.  

For a lot of medical school, I thought that I would become an internist. I was president of the Internal Medicine Society. But when I did my third-year surgery clerkship, I knew surgery was for me. I loved being in the OR. As an engineer, I love the technical aspect of surgery. But there is something so amazing about watching a robotic or microsurgery case and just appreciating how so many small things like force of the retraction, strength of the tissue and conduction of energy all play a role in the success of the operation. My cousin, who is an anesthesiologist, told me that if my favorite place in the hospital is the OR, then I should consider anesthesiology, but if my favorite place in the world is the OR, then I should become a surgeon. And that’s how I feel, just so excited and grateful that I get to become a surgeon, because for me there is no place like the OR.   

What has been the best thing so far about residency?  

The best thing about residency has been getting into the OR and working with attendings who have a passion for teaching. I have already learned so much and improved my hand skills. I have also really enjoyed getting to know my co-residents, both in and outside the hospital. We’ve already had a few lake days and dinners at the square!  

What has been the most challenging thing so far about residency?  

The very first day of residency, July 1, I had a 24-hour shift. I walked almost 11 miles that shift, and I would guess that half of that was because I was lost! Since then, I have learned my way around (but if I ever have to go to the endoscopy suite, please respond to my SOS alert; navigating that place is harder than a corn maze). I would say that just like all new things, the first weeks of residency were challenging, learning my way around while also learning how to manage pre- and post-operative patients on the floor. But everyone has been so helpful with the transition. I remember the first time I consented and posted an OR case. I actually did it wrong, and I felt so incompetent. It’s funny how much I’ve already learned and how things that once felt like a challenge like posting cases don’t anymore.  

If you are new to the area, have you discovered new favorite places (restaurants, parks, coffee shops) that you enjoy?  

After being on Lake Lanier a few times, I already consider myself a lake girl. I love being outdoors, so being out on the water has probably been my favorite thing so far! Moving from Nashville, I first thought that I would miss the food, but I haven’t because the food here has been so yummy! I have tried and really enjoyed many of the restaurants on the square. Cotto and Consuelo are probably my favorite! Also, Southern Baked Pie Company has the best pies!  

Do you have any wellness routines or activities that you do to maintain your wellbeing in residency? 

On my weekends off, I love to work out and go to church! I feel like those two things are probably the most consistent part of my wellness routine. I am looking forward to trying out some of the hiking trails because sometimes, there is no better medicine than just being out in nature.  

Learn more about our General Surgery residency by visiting ngmcgme.org/programs/general-surgery.