The Life of a Young Surgeon

I wanted to do my Surgery clerkship early during my third year, but my lottery picks never seemed to align with this goal. It is the largest domain within medicine with which I had no familiarity prior to this year, and so I wanted some early exposure to determine whether or not it would be on my list of interests. Now, as my last rotation during my third year of medical school (which, by this point, has become rather old in appeal), it would be very much a “Hail Mary” pass if I suddenly fell in love with this field.

Nonetheless, I can understand the appeal and have discovered as much during my General Surgery month: it is action-oriented, the Operating Room tends to run with a degree of speed and efficiency not always found in other parts of the hospital, and there is a degree of satisfaction that comes with using your hands and metal tools to accomplish unnatural feats (connecting two pieces of small bowel, peering into the chest or abdominal cavity with a camera, sealing off perforations, stopping bleeding vessels from the inside, and opening and closing the body as it if were merely a well-read book).

However, I also find that there are so many sacrifices made to pursue this life. Several of my residents whom I adore and respect have repeatedly canceled, delayed, or missed dates, family engagements, and other priorities in life due to emergency surgeries. As for myself, I wake up at 4 AM in the morning and leave work between 7-10pm at night, leaving me only an hour or two to eat and catch up with my fiancée on the phone, let alone study for the written and oral exams I will soon face on this clerkship. I prefer speaking to my closest friends and family on the phone or spending time with them in person, but that has not happened since I started this rotation three weeks ago and is unlikely to happen during the next five weeks as I move on to more time-intensive specialty services (Neurosurgery and Cardiothoracic/Vascular Surgery). Furthermore, the environment within which I have been working is very high-stress, combative (with two recent arguments nearly evolving from verbal threats to physical blows), and unsupportive (colleagues are more likely to criticize and make fun of one another than utter a supportive compliment). Some training surgeons seem to buckle under this pressure and are unable to handle multiple responsibilities, possibly jeopardizing the care of their patients on a routine basis. All of which begs the question: is it worth it? How does a third year medical student fall in love with Surgery and, if they have other priorities in life, how do they convince themselves the price is worth the reward? Many of my classmates have arrived at the answer “Yes,” and it may take some time for me to understand why.

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