Monday, November 17, 2003

An international reader, who is also a first-year medical student emailed me this....

I am thinking about becoming a surgeon. I would like to ask you why you have become a surgeon, because it can help me in making a decision.

Ah yes, the question that I ask myself every time I get up at three in the morning to go see a trauma patient, or a belly pain, or am up operating...but I digress.
Ever since I was in grade school I wanted to be a doctor (yeah, sounds hokey I know). With the execption of a month or so in high school that desire remained constant. So I got into medical school and then began to think about what I wanted to do. During college I worked in a local emergency room and met physicians who would let me tag along with them in the OR, hospital rounds, and their office. I saw multiple aspects of orthopedics, family practice, cardiology, pulmonology, radiology, and general surgery. During medical school vacations I would continue to do so. So in addition to being a medical geek I had a good insight to various specialties prior to medical school.
I wanted to do something that allowed me to make an immediate impact on a patient's life,and thought that a procedure-oriented specialty would allow that. I found during my "busman's holidays" and my third-year rotations that a primary care career wasn't for me.
What turned me on to general surgery was a resident who took me under his wing and let me do lines, manage the ventilator, and write TPN. I discovered that general surgery allowed me to diagnose a problem, provide an immediate solution, and manage acute problems. It allowed me to do this without being bogged-down in routine management of chronic health problems. Orthopedics would not allow me to manage critically-ill patients. Cardiology and pulmonology had the burden of requiring an internal medicine residency.
Surgery also is changing and growing as new technologies and procedures that take advantage of them are developed.
At the end of the day I think I have made a difference in people's lives (hopefully for the better) and I enjoy what I do (for the most part).
It is hard work, and surgery residencies are some of the hardest out there (80 hour work-week regardless). And fewer people are going into surgery (at least in the states) so that is something that you should consider.
Best of luck in your studies and I hope this was helpful.
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