By Dirk Hoffman
Published June 23, 2023
Third-year general surgery resident Joe L’Huillier, MD, has been named a recipient of the Association for Surgical Education’s (ASE) 2023 Outstanding Resident Teacher Award.
The national award is given annually to up to three residents who have completed at least two years of clinical training and are considered by their faculty and peers (residents/students) to be outstanding resident teachers.
He has temporarily stepped away from clinical activities to pursue research through the Empire Clinical Research Investigator Program fellowship, and obtain a Master’s in Health Professions Education degree through the MGH Institute for Health Professions Education.
L’Huillier says he has always had a passion for teaching, even before discovering his interest in medicine.
“My purpose in life became clear once I learned that physicians unite biology with education on a daily basis,” he says. “Surgery called strongest to me for its requisite technical skills and leadership in the operating room as well as diverse opportunities for trainee education.”
Through a variety of research projects over the past six years, L’Huillier has studied ways to improve medical student education — from establishing a formalized mentorship program to help students connect with mentors when the COVID-19 pandemic cut rotations short to understanding how students process patient death in an effort to improve support infrastructure.
And while these projects enhance education on a larger scale, day-to-day medical student teaching remains a top priority, he says.
“I begin my relationship with each medical student the same way: I explain that I will be quizzing them throughout every day with the goal of fostering growth and development in a non-judgmental manner,” L’Huillier says.
“Most students appreciate this level of involvement and inclusion once they know that you care about them and their growth as a clinician.”
Joseph Jude Lesh, MD, who graduated from the Jacobs School in 2023, says L’Huillier’s breadth of knowledge of surgery and medicine and his level of understanding was so impressive that he mistakenly thought he was a fourth- of fifth-year senior resident when he first encountered him during his in-patient general surgery rotation.
“Frequently throughout the four weeks, I would ask him questions about topics that came up, and without hesitation he was able to provide a detailed explanation regarding the subject,” he says. “Having seen Joe in the operating room, rounding on patients, and presenting at conferences to attendings, I know that he is confident in all situations.”
“Simply put, being around Joe made me want to be a better medical student. I found myself studying harder than I had done before.”
Lesh says L’Huillier’s love of education is unrivaled.
“If there was downtime, such as a walk from the call room to the ED, he would give us what I call ‘one-minute lectures’ on the way,” he says.
“As soon as we started our rotation, Joe made sure to sit each of us down and get to know our unique interests and career plans. To me, this the strongest part of his education style.”
“He would use this knowledge to cater our education and experience, whether it was assigning us specific surgery cases or information to read up on that he felt would be helpful for our career,” Lesh adds. “Joe always circled back to our goals that we set, in addition to creating new ones as we progressed.”
Clairice A. Cooper, MD, clinical assistant professor of surgery and director of the general surgery residency program, says “in my 13 years of involvement with the residency program, I have never seen a resident more dedicated to education and more intentional in their approach.”
Cooper says L’Huillier entered the residency program with defined goals: “I want to be a program director and I would like to obtain a Master’s in Education.”
“Yet even with these lofty goals, his commitment is demonstrated at all levels,” she says. “He ensures an outstanding educational experience for every single student that he works with on a day-to-day basis and this is demonstrated by some of the most voluminous and detailed feedback from students I have ever seen.”
Cooper says L’Huillier demonstrates utmost professionalism, and despite his performance at the top of his class, also exudes humility.
“I simply can’t imagine a trainee more deserving of Association for Surgical Education’s Outstanding Resident Teacher Award,” she says. “Dr. L’Huillier has been an incredible contributor to our department and University at Buffalo as a whole, and I have no doubt he will be a national contributor to surgical education.”