Garret Choby, M.D.: A lifetime of preparation readies self-described outsider to lead residents in career preparation

Garret Choby, M.D. (ENT ’19), Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, refers to himself as an outsider because he didn’t train at Mayo. Yet he received the Teacher of the Year award in his department from the Mayo Fellows’ Association this year.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he completed medical school at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, postgraduate training at the Institute for Clinical Research and Education at the University of Pittsburgh, otolaryngology residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a fellowship in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery at Stanford University in California. He is an associate professor of otolaryngology at Mayo Clinic and has a joint appointment in the Department of Neurologic Surgery.

“I didn’t really have any connections at Mayo but, rather, learned that Mayo had a need in my field,” he says. “Mayo is a premier academic medical center and has the resources to allow me to offer outstanding care to patients and help me grow in my career.”

Dr. Choby describes Mayo’s education style as unique, with surgical trainees in an apprenticeship model working shoulder to shoulder in the operating room. “We treat residents as adults and expect them to be prepared and to take an active role in their own training.”

Dr. Choby knows a thing or two about preparation. His father was a truck driver who left for the week on Monday mornings, leaving behind a to-do list for his seven children. “He taught us the five Ps — Prior preparation prevents poor performance. Then my college football coach, Dennis Bornes, forced us to take personal responsibility. He emphasized that greatness wasn’t about physical ability but, instead, work ethic and preparation. As a result, I’m usually well prepared.”

Dr. Choby mentions another mentor, his fellowship director at Stanford, Peter Hwang, M.D., who served as president of the American Rhinologic Society. “He allowed us to struggle in the OR and asked us probing questions so we could develop our skills with confidence.”

In turn, when Dr. Choby notices a trainee struggling, he tries to get to the root of the problem. “Most of our residents have been academic superstars and high achievers their entire lives. Residency is a challenging time because most trainees are at the ages when they make significant life changes — marriage, children, moving for training. When you combine those factors with the rigors of surgical training, the chinks in the armor sometimes reveal themselves. Rarely are their struggles related to intelligence or knowledge. It’s usually something in their personal life that’s spilling over into their work. I try to help them work through those things and make sure they have the resources they need. I try to remain approachable so they feel comfortable coming to me when they feel overwhelmed or need extra help.

“When I see a resident’s attitude change from hesitant to confident, it’s rewarding.”

“When I see a resident’s attitude change from hesitant to confident, it’s rewarding. Equally rewarding is when I see them demonstrate strong leadership skills — not just as a physician or surgeon but as a team leader who shows gratitude to others on the team.”

To make sure trainees have the resources they need to succeed, Dr. Choby has helped Matthew Carlson, M.D. (ENT ’12), chair, Division of Otology/Neurotology, in developing online tools for trainee education.  Dr. Carlson founded the website in 2009, which has expanded to include surgical training videos, medical student and resident resources, and the podcast series “ENT in a Nutshell.”  Dr. Choby is primarily involved as the rhinology staff editor of the podcast series, dictation resource contributor and frequent contributor of surgical videos.

“We share Mayo Clinic knowledge with the world, largely thanks to Dr. Carlson’s vision and ingenuity,” says Dr. Choby. “Today, residents aren’t inclined to sit down and read textbooks. They go to YouTube and other platforms to learn about surgery. These are untapped areas for education that anyone can get free access to. I am primarily involved in the podcast series and surgical videos, which are really popular with trainees around the world. It’s exciting to be involved in bringing these home-grown tools to life.”

“It’s one of the most prestigious awards you can win. There are really excellent teachers in our department, and I’m privileged to be among them. Interacting with residents is one of the best parts of my job.”

Dr. Choby, the self-described outsider, says he’s humbled and grateful to receive the Teacher of the Year award: “It’s one of the most prestigious awards you can win. There are really excellent teachers in our department, and I’m privileged to be among them. Interacting with residents is one of the best parts of my job.”


Comments from trainees

  • “Dr. Choby is an excellent educator and teacher in the clinic, in the operating room, and in each interaction with residents and students. He is completely committed to his craft and helping residents think critically through clinical information.”
  • “He consistently strives to educate residents in the clinical setting and creates a great foundation for surgical competence. He encourages residents to excel in research, aids in fellowship pursuits and contributes to open access medical education. He inspires learners to understand, read and improve daily.”
  • “Dr. Choby has completely revamped our quality improvement curriculum, fostering an environment of dedication to improving patient safety and current practices. He is committed to quality improvement and has made major contributions to free online educational resources.”
  • “Dr. Choby does an excellent job teaching the residents sinus surgery; dedicates time to lectures, podcasts and other educational activities; and organizes a great lecture series with outside institutions. He is patient and supportive and provides an incredible foundation for us to become accomplished surgeons.”
  • “I have worked with him on several research projects, and his mentorship has helped me develop research skills and comfort in publishing manuscripts and presenting at national conferences. Dr. Choby is generous with his time and committed to providing valuable education opportunities, even to residents who are not on his service. We are very grateful to have him.”

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