What’s in My Backpack?

by Ping Song, MD (@pingsongmd) and Joseph Mark Firriolo, MD (@jomarkf)

University of California Davis Plastic Surgery (@ucdavisplasticsurgery)


Match season has just passed us, and many bright medical students will soon embark upon the next phase of their journey: residency. Careful preparation—and a well-stocked backpack—will set you up for success.

The Backpack

Whether you prefer messenger bags or backpacks, the key is to have a bag that is sturdy, reasonably large, and compartmentalized. You will spend long hours in the hospital, and a well-organized backpack will contribute to an optimal experience. We personally prefer backpacks with two straps, as this is best for posture and aerodynamics as you weave the halls of the wards and Emergency Room.

Laptop or Tablet

The best laptop/tablet to use is the one you already own. However, if you’re in the market for some new hardware, we suggest something light-weight and compatible with your hospital’s electronic medical record software.

Other Tech

Keep your devices running! There’s nothing worse than losing phone charge on a busy call night. It is always a good idea to keep a phone charger, and even a portable power bank for when you need to charge your phone on-the-go.

A Bluetooth speaker is another valuable piece of tech to have at your disposal. In the call room, you can use this to play music, or even the latest edition of PRS Journal Club. It can also be a nice touch to bring your speaker to bedside procedures and allow the patient to choose music that will sooth their nerves.

Other tech that can help you out along the way includes headphones/AirPods, various adaptors (for HDMI, USB-C, etc.), as well as PowerPoint clickers/laser pointers.

Food and Drink

Now that your electronics are charged, it’s time to make sure that your body is charged!  Finding time to eat can be unpredictable, so make sure to bring along little packages of consumable goodies. We enjoy variety, thus a protein bar to start the day, followed by some easy to eat grapes to carry us to our meal prepped lunch. We end the day with delectable treats such as almonds and carrots. But even if you do not get to snack often, it is imperative to stay hydrated!  We always have a filled water bottle on us everywhere we go.

Personal Hygiene

Taking care of your patients is a full-time job. However, you must make sure to keep yourself tidy and groomed as well. Always bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss. You’ll want to make sure no one can smell or see that hearty salad with onions and sesame seeds you had for lunch. For our glasses- and contact lens-wearer readers, we advise you to bring a spare pair of spectacles as well as a contact lens case and small bottle of contact solution. Finally, accoutrements such as deodorant, hand sanitizer and, Chapstick give you the confidence to work your hardest while feeling your best!

Tools of the Trade

To be the consummate plastic surgery resident will also take some special tools. Loupe magnification will help you with all your procedures, whether in the OR or the ER. A pair of trauma shears will always be necessary to cut down old dressings during wound checks. And a scrub cap to show off your favorite Marvel superhero or Sesame Street character will always help to build patient rapport. Additionally, we like to stay organized on our paper patient lists by using a four-color ball pen. Finally, you may never know when you’ll need to listen to heart or lungs, so it’s good to carry a stethoscope on you as well.

Study Material

We saved the best for last. Time management is very important in residency, and so is constantly reading and learning. To combine the two, make sure you have something to study easily while “on-the-go.” Examples include your favorite reference text, or the latest PRS Journal. We find that reviewing In-Service questions can be very high-yield; using ANKI flash card system can help any plastic surgery resident optimize their down-time.

Good luck, young padawan—may the force be with you!

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