BOSTON, MA – The board of directors of Massachusetts General Hospital announced Monday that the prestigious center plans to offer residency training in the theory and practice of holding retractors in surgery.

surgeryThe first of its kind, the four-year program will allow graduating medical students dedicated access to a wide variety of surgeons, retractors, and procedures, providing an environment where the craft of retractor holding can be honed in ways not previously possible.

“For over a century, young doctors have been doing the vital job of holding open the surgical field, allowing surgeons to operate with clear vision,” said Dr. Mark Gardiner, the program’s recently-appointed director, in a press release.  “But there have been no avenues for growth within this practice, no movement toward recognizing and treating this as its own nascent field of medicine.  At Mass General, we’re changing that.”

The program’s creation paves the way for the emergence of a new breed of physicians, dubbed “retractorist” by its proponents.  It also comes as welcome vindication for surgical residents and medical students who have come to know the lure of retractor holding but have never, until now, seen a viable future in it.

“To me, this is an answered prayer,” says fourth-year medical student Jamie Schalow of Northwestern University Medical School.  “I fell in love with retractor holding in my third year, when I fourth-assisted on an abdominal aneurysm.  I held a Balfour retractor for two and a half hours.  By the end, my hands were so cramped I couldn’t hold a fork until the next day.  It was heady stuff.  That’s the moment.  That’s when I knew.”

Having secured ACGME certification for the program last year, Mass General will start its inaugural class of future retractorists this July.  Interviews for the fourteen PGY-1 positions are well underway.

Subir Rakesh, a graduating medical student from Arkansas, is concerned about the intense competition for entry into the revolutionary program.  “It takes more than boards scores and a high GPA to get into this field,” says Rakesh.  “I’m just hoping I can make an impression during the interview by demonstrating some retractor techniques I’ve learned over the years.  You know, the overhand, the sidebar, the through-and-through, the inverted Hasselhoff, the French horn.  And of course the full extension ski pole.  That’s where your hand is in the surgical field but your head is almost under the table.  Very tricky.”

With several other hospitals around the country considering opening retractor medicine programs of their own, it is expected the movement will garner enough interest to draw hundreds of new doctors away from more established fields such as general surgery.

Katie Blonovich of Baltimore, MD is a prime example.  “A few months after I started my surgery internship, I realized that operating on people wasn’t my passion.  It turns out I had only gone into it for the retracting.”

With the advent of retractor medicine as a self-realized field, Blonovich is looking beyond surgery.  “Now I want to follow my heart and do the things that led me to medicine in the first place.  And that means transferring out of this godforsaken hell of an internship and into something more meaningful, like holding skin and muscle back with long, sharp pieces of metal for hours at a time with a surgeon berating me and telling me I’m doing it wrong. Man, that’s the life.”

  • Show Comments

  • Marisa Hudson-Schweitzer

    Go for it! You can do it!!!

  • DS Art

    I call this painting “Valuable Surgical Experience – an Intern’s Perspective”.

  • Past Medical History

    Add piles of redundant paperwork, and I’m in!

  • John Wood

    We call it surgical training in the UK!

  • John Macabee

    My favorite is when I was holding a army navy for hernia repair. The surgeon grabbed my hand and said “here hold it here.” 3 minutes goes by and he grabs my hand again moves it 6 inches laterally and says “I SAID HOLD IT HERE.” Fuck that guy.

  • Jane Hall Crawford

    Holding the retractor for a vaginal hysterectomy. More fun than should be allowed.

  • Swati Puri

    How are you how are your studies going on

  • Jeff Smith

    Try that for 35 years..

  • Katrina Gabelko

    I did that residency! It’s so Zen

  • Chris Zeeb

    If you can’t skin, you can at least hold a leg…

  • Nicole Largent Cox

    My thoughts exactly. It’s a self retaining retractor. Maybe a deaver or Harrington…

  • Nicole Largent Cox

    Oh yes, no worse assignment than retractor holder on a carotid endarterectomy. Hold this army/navy for 30 min while I sew this graft on. DONT MOVE!! Oh crap, got a couple of bleeders, another 10 minutes of holding. OR the ruptured AAA, no time for a retractor so let’s get a bunch of people in here to retract with their hands. OR, this is a redo-CABG and I’m gonna need a heart holder. Don’t move while I sew that coronary. Hand is numb anyway because the heart is frozen.

  • Jean Louis Caron

    I don’t

  • Bill Clark



  • Fifi Anne

    ROFL! That WAS my surgical intern rotation! The best is the Vag hyst. Retracting whilst standing on tippy toes with your arm draped across the patient’s groin for hours with zero visual of the operation. I would choose clinics over that everytime. :)

  • Narelle Lintern

    That’s what I need – perfect new job!

  • Kitty TheKat

    not retractor-related; but in PA school I had to hold the camera for a late-in-the day total colectomy with take-down of adhesions…the attending thought it would be a good case to teach the resident, so I stood on a stool for 7 hours (case started at 4p) holding the camera in that semi-football cradle while the resident painstakingly took down adhesions which had glued the entire large colon to the abdominal wall…and this, being laparoscopic, was done by someone who was, let’s just say, not quite facile with the instruments. oy!! my aching back! I do have to say, to my credit, I did not once get the verbal slap, your DRIFTING!” which I got on so many (yaaaaaawn) endless bariatric case

  • Kitty TheKat


  • Kitty TheKat

    I don’t! I don’t!!

  • Janet Shaw

    Nice job for you Narelle Lintern or Steph Yau?

  • Greg Salmon

    I’m not sure why you would hold a balfour for two or three hours, unless the self-retaining part of it wasn’t understood! Lol

  • Efren Garcia

    This position is already filled.
    It’s called the first assistant. Lol.

  • Christie Shanafelt

    Doesn’t everyone?

  • Amber Cox

    I will be changing my profession soon. Any monkey can do this! I’m thinking Wall St! Any idiot
    can do that!

  • Marybeth Siddall

    lol I can teach this one! 40 years on the end of a deavor

  • Mark Kramer

    So funny… My left quad falls asleep now during surgery…am I getting old or retracting too much?

  • Scott Eric Giles

    Isn’t that what those tiny little bungee cords are for?

  • Eric Schauberger

    Matthew Tanis, maybe you could employee the “Tanis pannus” for such a residency.

  • Annette Augustine

    Brilliant! Now I know what to pursue for my next degree. Hahaha!!!

  • Trisha Lee Dimmers

    Now the term Retracterologist has a lineage lol

  • Julia Brigman

    Halarious I hope this is a joke…

  • Harsha Setty

    Holding retractors was such bullshit in med school. Oh yeah, it’s part of “education”…

  • Jenn Hayes

    Katie Anderson

  • Kristina Damisch

    I can’t explain in words how much I’m dreading my surgery clerkship.

  • Sarpoma Sefa-Boakye

    Love it lol!!

  • James Anderson

    It’s easy with robotic surgery!

  • Michael Gipson

    I remember retracting during a bariatric surgery for four hours while standing on one foot balanced on a stool. My back still hurts thinking about it!

  • Tom Manis

    Retracting. The only time in my life that I fell asleep standing up!

  • Carla Weaver

    Do they make more money than pediatric hospitalists?

  • Jonathan Landry

    Better take back that statement. Ie RETRACT!

  • Darrell Hollifield

    You have to be kidding me! A program to hold retractors? Well, I guess I’ll be safe in my job for some time to come. Haha!

  • Stacy Ann Soares

    Ok this one is funny Saad Mohammad

  • Elie Balesh

    Abraham Pathak Elias Shaya

  • Julius Liptak

    Ha … Love to know what the inverted Hasselhof retractor holding technique actually involves! I think I’ll work on my berating skills – is there a course for this?

  • Julius Liptak

    Ha … Love to know what the inverted Hasselhof retractor holding technique actually involves! I think I’ll work on my berating skills – is there a course for this?

  • Danna Flores


  • Danna Flores


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