The makings of a trauma surgeon

Rennette Zavala, MD, is a PRG-5 chief resident in the department of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

Dr. Rennette Zavala's journey to becoming a PRG-5 chief resident in the department of surgery

“I went into medical school thinking I was going into pediatrics.”

After one surgery rotation – that quickly changed for Rennette Zavala, MD, a PRG-5 chief resident in the department of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.

“I did my first surgery rotation and thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Zavala said. “I love the immediate result you get with surgery. You see a problem and you fix it.”

The Miami native completed her undergraduate education at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

She attended the Lewis Kats School of Medicine at Temple University for her medical degree followed by one intern year at the University of Colorado in Denver before moving to Jacksonville to continue her residency.

“Everyone here was very welcoming, flexible and willing to meet me where I was,” she said. “They made it a very easy transition and I am so grateful that I was able to train here.”

Where it all began

Zavala doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t interested in science. She specifically recalls middle school anatomy sparking her interest.

“Learning more about the human body always fascinated me – How our bodies work and function,” she said.

Later, her grandfather’s battle with cancer would propel her toward a career in medicine.

“I got to see how physicians get to make a direct impact on someone’s life and the importance of having a doctor who exhibits compassionate care to their patients,” Zavala said. “Unfortunately, there aren’t enough physicians like that.”

The lessons of residency 

Medicine is all about continuous learning.

“Through every surgical rotation, I was eager to learn everything I could. Whether it was CT, vascular, colorectal,” Zavala said.

Experiencing different specialties helped solidify her passion for trauma surgery.

“Trauma was interesting to me because you get to do everything. You don’t control where the injuries happen. Sometimes you’re working in the chest, sometimes you’re working in the belly,” she said. “Being a Level I trauma center, our program is very trauma heavy, so I gained a lot of exposure.”

Tight-knit is a word Zavala used to describe the general surgery residency program.

“Your co-residents make it all worth it. It’s so important to have a support to help you get through those difficult days and it makes the good days that much better because you have someone to share it with,” Zavala said.

Ruchir Puri, MD, FACS, an associate professor and the program director for the general surgery residency, is confident in her skillset and views her as an asset to the program.

“Dr. Zavala is a gifted surgeon who takes great care of people,” said Dr. Puri. “She embodies all the qualities that a young surgeon should possess – superb knowledge, strong technical skills, excellent communication, leadership and most importantly compassion.”

 Preparing for what's ahead

 Once Zavala completes residency, she has plans to continue her medical education at the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in South Carolina as a trauma critical care fellow.

“This program has done a great job in preparing us for wherever our journey in medicine takes us,” she said.

Following her fellowship, she plans to continue seeing a variety of patients at a Level I trauma center. She hopes a teaching hospital is in her future as well.

“Ideally, I would like to continue working with underserved patients because I really do think that makes a big difference in the community,” she said. “It also provides people with care that otherwise wouldn’t get easy access to health care.”

Zavala will graduate from the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville general surgery residency program in June.