Why I Walked Away From Surgery: Part 2
Missed Part 1? Click here to hear how it all began...
I went to sleep that night in the call room on cloud nine. I think I even called my wife before going to sleep at 2 AM to tell her my success story. This is was exactly what I thought surgery would be- passionate people taking really sick people emergently to the OR to save lives. But the next week started, and that experience never came back or only in a partial way. The later emergent cases on my surgery rotation were never quite the same. Even though the cases were interesting, I found that working with the residents and attendings left me unsatisfied and often feeling disrespected. When I didn't feel valued as a member of the team, the cases seemed longer and the overnight cases started to seem quite pointless. It was a slow fade, but over the weeks my passion for surgery dwindled. That was 5 years of focus and passion killed by one surgery rotation.
The nail in the coffin was scrubbing into a splenectomy with my chief resident, who was starting her seventh year of general surgery residency (typically general surgery is only five years). Our attending for the case was double board-certified in hematology and general surgery. He was letting the chief do most of the case, but each time the chief performed a maneuver in a sub-optimal way, the attending would let her have it. And I mean really let her have it. Hours later, the case was over, the spleen was out, and so was my passion for surgery.
As I stood there those hours, I realized that I couldn't train in a program that didn't treat me with respect. I realized that I did not enjoy the people I was spending time with on this rotation- the residents spent their precious free time discussing the idiocy and inferiority of the medical residents. I realized that my favorite part of the day was going home to see my, at the time, very pregnant wife (Baby MedSchool Money is doing so great!). I realized that although I really did enjoy surgery, I didn't love it. If I couldn't muster the motivation to love surgery, going all out for 6 weeks in med school, how would I get through at least 5 years of very intense training? What kind of person would I become after being exposed daily to the (in my opinion) toxic culture of my institution's surgical program?
I looked at the surgical residents that I worked with during my time. The junior residents were either on the verge of falling asleep or having a psychotic break from the amount of stress they were under. The senior residents did seem happier, but even they were working insane hours and often joked about how their spouses might divorce them soon. The attendings were happy if they were in the OR as long as it was during the day and they had gotten sleep the night before. The experience that I had with my first emergency case never came back. A few patients died, some after hours in the OR. Others, that we followed for weeks, never had an operation.
I decided it was time to talk with my wife and start looking at other options.
Part 3, the conclusion to my tale, is now live! Click here to keep reading. Thanks for following along!