One of my most frequently-asked questions!
Although there are multitude of reasons and explanations for my career of choice, I have summed up three major points below. I hope they give insight to those who may want to consider surgery or provide inspiration to those who have their heart set on this compelling profession.
1. Surgery often gives concrete and visible results which are extremely rewarding.
No matter what surgical subspecialty you decide on, most of what we do involves identifying a specific pathology then removing it from the patient’s body or repairing a damaged structure. If there is a bowel perforation you’d open up their abdomen and patch the bowels up; if there is a broken femur, you’d operate and fix the bone; if there is a suspicious neck lump, you’d excise the lesion and send it to the lab for diagnosis. Of course, it is not always that straight-forward but the essence of it all bears a lot of truth.
A lot of our patients may have been plagued with debilitating symptoms such as pain or reduced function, and quite frequently surgery is able to provide a definitive treatment which in itself is very satisfying. Needless to say, even with our best intentions these procedures do carry associated risks and significant complications. However, I find a great deal of comfort generally by the immediate outcomes – both good and/or bad! Hence the bulk of your surgical training years would be to minimise those adverse consequences of an operation and improve your patient’s quality of life through advances in surgical technology and latest scientific research.
One of my earliest surgical experience was back when I was an FY2 in Neurosurgery. A 70 year old gentleman presented with right sided weakness and dysphasia from an acute-on-chronic subdural haematoma. It was heartbreaking to see him struggling to call out his son’s name or hold his wife’s hands. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to scrub in and perform (my very first!) Burr-hole drill to evacuate the bleeding. The very next morning, he was calling out to us from the end of the ward and waving frantically (with his right hand) bidding us to come nearer so he could thank us!
I could still remember the overwhelming feeling of pride and fulfilment gushing through me. That feeling was later intensified when the wife came to us in tears after the patient was able to verbally express “I love you, dear”. It was an absolute stark contrast to how he was the day before and how much of a difference the surgery made – whereby with “one stroke of the scalpel”, we were able to cure him. At this point, I had already made up my mind about surgery but this particular case was a clear example of how extremely rewarding surgery can be.
2. Performing surgery complements my affinity for technical acuity and hands-on experience.
When it comes to choosing a long-term career, you would need to consider your own characteristics, traits and motivation: What makes you feel proud and satisfied? What gives you the drive to achieve your highest potential? What kinds of activities give you intellectual stimulation?
Alternatively, it is also worth asking yourself: What type of tasks do you find uninspiring? What gives you a feeling of dread or apprehension?
As a medical student, I always found myself more interested and drawn towards practical tutorial sessions. Not only that, I remembered how awe-inspired I was when I witnessed my consultant performed craniotomy to reveal a living, pulsating (and squishy!) human brain underneath! It was a completely different experience to studying those brain specimens in the anatomy lab – this was nothing short of incredible.
When I started working as a junior doctor, I found the long shifts much enjoyable if I am able to do more procedures – from simple venepunctures or cannulation, to insertions of urethral catheters! I enjoyed the clinical interpretation and interaction with the human body, and how that translates into performing a safe procedure through which I could help my patients get better and provide relief.
My first theatre experience as an FY1 was a simple incision and drainage of a perianal abscess. He was a delivery driver and the painful abscess had affected his job significantly as it involved long hours of sitting in his van. With one swift stab incision, I watched how all the agonising culprit of pus oozed out and I was able to physically stick my finger into the abscess cavity to clear out the rest – ensuring a very gratifying outcome.
This simple procedure provided me with much triumphant feeling and I felt proud of myself. I wanted to do more. The physical act of undertaking was stimulating. I wanted to keep ‘doing’. It pushed me to improve my techniques and become slicker, quicker and more efficient. It was the stepping stone to performing more complicated and intricate procedures.
A surgical career is-, has been-, and will unfailingly be able to provide me with those opportunities whilst continuing to challenge my technical skills as I progress. Hence, I believe it perfectly complements my personal values and incentives.
3. A surgical career is challenging – yet so exciting and enlightening.
Every career has its high and low points. It is not about which job offers the best perks or least drawbacks, but rather which job has the right balance of both – for you. Sure, I find the long hours of operating and intense on-calls exhausting! -but I also find these moments especially constructive and insightful. It is often during these difficult times that my instincts kick in and I strive towards breaking any perceived barrier towards women in surgery, especially a woman of colour and ethnic minority like myself.
The diverse groups of patients I get to see, the various symptoms they present with and the many conditions I encounter – all of which I find hugely interesting and thought-provoking. Many a times I will find myself at a lost or faced with uncertainties and yet these are also the times I managed to exceed my own limitations by learning something new – which I find such a thrilling process.
Very frequently, these novel learning points are acquired through the most fundamental tool in any profession – teamwork! And surgery holds this value at the core of its practice as no surgeon works alone.
I find that one of the most fascinating aspects of my job is when I get to be involved in a multi-disciplinary team and assimilate from each other. For example, in managing a breast cancer patient we would work closely with the radiographers and radiologist to ascertain the location and nature of the tumour; we would also be in constant communication with the pathologist to confirm the diagnosis and certify clear margins post-resection; the oncologists would consolidate treatment with adjuvant therapies to minimise risks of recurrence; the Specialist Nurses provides continuous patient support before and after surgery; the Operating Theatre Practitioners ensure a smooth and uneventful procedure and the anaesthetists maintain the patient’s most conducive physiological state to allow the operation to happen and support their recovery.
It is truly remarkable what we can learn and achieve by working together. I believe that this spirit of fellowship within the specialty has been a compounding factor towards the advances of surgery. Yet there is still much more to discover and lots of exciting times ahead.
Would you like to become a Surgeon and join us?
We would love to hear your thoughts so come and tell us more on why you like this specialty in the comments below! If you require any support or have further questions then do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly via our website. I am here to help!