USC Caruso OHNS Chief Resident graduation shines a light on standout ENT residency program

The USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery celebrated the graduation of its Chief Residents on June 18. The program’s unique structure and focus on residents make it a standout program for producing the next generation of otolaryngologists.

By Geoffrey Waring

Four doctors standing in a row, holding diplomas.


On Saturday, June 18, at the USC Club at the University Park campus of the University of Southern California, the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery bid a hearty congratulations and farewell to its four Chief Residents. Joseph Acevedo, MD, MAS, Tymon Tai, MD, Liyang Tang, MD, and Melissa Zheng, MD, the four Chief Residents in the program, were celebrated for their achievements and given a warm send off to the next steps in their careers. Dr. Acevedo will practice at Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, Dr. Tai will start a facial plastics fellowship at the University of Texas, Houston, Dr. Tang will begin a head and neck fellowship at Loma Linda University, and Dr. Zheng will be entering a Laryngology fellowship at the University of Washington.

The graduation ceremony shined a light on the close collegiality between the residents, and the warm feelings between the residents and faculty in the program. It also provided an opportunity to highlight the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery’s excellent – and expanding – residency program.

Residents, faculty, and alumni chimed in on the occasion of the Chief Resident graduation to sing the program’s praises. Four unique factors that stood out about the otolaryngology residency at USC were the amount of autonomy the program gives residents, the varied and difficult cases residents are asked to treat, the diversity of the population served during the residency, and the collegiality between co-residents and faculty.

“When I was a junior resident, many of the USC residency graduates told me about the well-known reputation of the USC graduates as skilled, competent surgeons and clinicians within the medical communities which served them well throughout their professional career after graduation,” said Janet Choi, MD, MPH, an alumna of the USC Caruso OHNS residency program, currently serving a neurotology fellowship at the University of Minnesota. “Now I know why. I would definitely choose USC again.”

The unique structure of the program, splitting time between Keck Hospital and Los Angeles County Hospital, was one of the primary benefits of the program according to many residents. Karla O’Dell, MD, an alumna of the residency program and current faculty member in the department, noted that the time at LA County provides a holistic learning experience of patient care that is unique for a residency program.

“There is a lot of autonomy at Los Angeles County Hospital. You run your own clinic and follow patients throughout the year,” said Dr. O’Dell. “There’s a sense of ownership that’s created that’s really hard to find in other residency programs. It’s very unique.” 

Aside from the greater autonomy provided by the experience at LA County, department residents frequently spoke of the diversity — both in types of cases encountered, as well as the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the patients they cared for — their time in the program provided.

“Coming from LAC+USC, we’ve seen it all,” said Dr. Acevedo. “I feel comfortable in the widest variation of Otolaryngologic practice, and am confident in my clinical skills.”

Kevin Hur, MD, another faculty member who graduated from the department’s residency program, agreed. “Our residency program really stands out in the diversity of patients we see, the amount of responsibility entrusted to the residents, and the faculty teaching and mentorship,” Dr. Hur said. “As a result, the residency program produces highly competent, well-rounded otolaryngologists.”

The USC Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery’s status as an academic medicine department also ensures that training the next generation of otolaryngologists and head and neck surgeons is treated with the same seriousness that giving the best possible care to patients receives. The faculty’s dedication to the residents was a major factor for many of the residents and alumni of the program.

“I was a resident, then went to Miami for fellowship, and came back as faculty after. The reason I came back is because of the people in the department,” said Mark Swanson, MD, a faculty member and alumnus of the program. “This department is centered around the residency program, and each faculty member is invested in the success of each resident.  There is open and honest advice for career mentorship, research mentorship, and surgical/clinical mentorship.”

The attention the faculty pays to residents extends to supporting their special interests and goals, as well. Lia Jacobson, MD, MSGM, an alumna of the program and current faculty member at the University of California, San Francisco, noted that faculty paid attention to her interest in global health and found ways to support her goals.

“My academic interest is in global health, and I also work with ENT training programs in low-resourced settings in Africa and Southeast Asia, serving as a co-director for UCSF’s global surgery fellowship programs,” Dr. Jacobson said. “My faculty mentors at USC supported my ambitions in this arena and in training at LA County hospital, I have a foundation for caring for patients who have been underserved and often present with advanced diseases.”

Bhavishya Clark, MD, a program alumna and otolaryngologist practicing in San Luis Obispo, agreed. “I saw a wealth of pathology and interacted with patients from all walks of life at USC,” she said. “This experience has empowered me to bring new advances in ENT care to my community.”

In addition to its reputation for excellence in preparing ENT specialists for their careers, the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery residency program is scoring high marks in another important area. Although the majority of graduating medical students in the U.S. are now women, otolaryngology as a subspecialty still suffers from a gender imbalance. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, only 35% of otolaryngology residents who graduated from a U.S. or Canadian medical school are women. At the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, women make up the majority of current residents.

“We have always ranked intelligence and character above everything else during the resident interview process at USC. I am proud that our cohort of residents meet these high standards,” said Department Chair John S. Oghalai, MD. “We are lucky to have an above-average proportion of women trainees in our program as a wonderful consequence of this process.”

While the department’s residency program enjoys an excellent reputation for preparing future generations of otolaryngologists, it is far from resting on its laurels. Recent expansion of the residency program includes the introduction of a new Clinician-Scientist Training Program residency track, which welcomed Stephanie Wong, MD, as its inaugural resident.

“We were lucky to get funded by the NIH for the CSTP residency slot, although the strong clinical and research training that already exists within our residency training program certainly played a role in the reviewers’ decision,” Dr. Oghalai said of the new program. “We are proud to be able to synergize these aspects to foster the development of clinician-scientists within otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.”

When asked what advice she would give to physicians considering residency with the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, recent program graduate Dr. Liyang Tang said: “You’ll work hard, but you’ll have a lot of fun.”

Dr. Choi summed up her feelings about the program even more concisely: “#bestprogramever!”


Learn more about the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery residency program here.