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Some thoughts for young surgeons


I feel compelled to write about e-mail. At a recent surgical meeting I concluded a two-hour breakfast meeting with a more junior colleague with the words, “You need to start answering your e-mails!” It started me thinking about the topic, and I want to give you some thoughts about e-mail. For academic physicians, e-mail is still a very important means of communication. I know that the world has moved on, and e-mail seems very passé, but I assure that the most senior levels of academic medicine still use it as a major alternative to the personal letter or phone call.

For example, I’ve received numerous invitations to speak (including internationally), participate in committees at the national level, and write chapters for textbooks. I’ve also mentored numerous young surgeons who approached me via e-mail. E-mail still appears to be the best way to communicate with colleagues in other parts of the globe, as it transcends time barriers.

As your career unfolds you may receive very significant communications (including invitations to participate in publications, research grants, or even to be a visiting professor) via e-mail. These may come from colleagues within your own institution or from other institutions. If you don’t look at your e-mail periodically, including the “junk” or “spam” folders, you won’t even know about these opportunities. You will miss a major chance to network, and may even be perceived as rude and unresponsive. The sender of the e-mail will simply move on and contact someone else who is equally well qualified.

You don’t have to obsessively check every couple of hours, but I would recommend a daily sweep of your inbox. It’s a lot easier to clear things out if you are only dealing with a day’s worth of messages. Please don’t tell me how many e-mails you get every day. I have been handing out my business card (with e-mail address) for years, and my e-mail address is on my faculty profile on our department website. I can assure you that I still get a large number of e-mails.

And, once you engage in an e-mail conversation with a colleague, respond promptly. Even if all you can say is “Busy now, I’ll respond by the weeks’ end” (and cc this to yourself so you don’t forget), you will be perceived as awake, alert, alive, and responsive. Your response will be greatly appreciated by the sender.

By the way, my e-mail address is: carol-scott-conner@uiowa.edu and I’d be happy to hear from you.

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