Why I Walked Away From Surgery: Part 3
If you haven't read Parts 1 & 2 of my journey, Part 3 will make little sense, so I encourage you to go back and check out these posts before reading on to the finale. Clink the links below to check them out!
My last week on surgery was bitter. I had already decided that I needed to look seriously at other options. Surgery has such a peculiar effect on the mind- if you are excited to be there, it is one of the greatest places in the world- maybe the greatest. But, it can just as easily have the opposite effect on some. Due to the plethora of other students and residents fighting for a spot at the table, I often ended up sitting on a stool in the corner of the OR for a couple hours. At that time, the OR was not one of the greatest places in the world.
I wouldn't consider myself a very emotional guy, but my emotions were internally all over the place. On the one hand, I was thankful that I had realized how I really felt before I invested anything more in this journey. Maybe it was my maximizer side coming out, but I couldn't help but feel that in some small way, I had wasted the past couple of years (more on this later) pursuing this dream that I had now rejected. There were feelings of guilt as I thought of my former college friends who applied but did not make it into med school- would they also turn down their dream if they were in my shoes? Is it selfish for me to talk for years about devoting my life to healing with surgery and then take it back, choose something slightly less involved to invest in my family? I had to ask myself these hard questions.
Relief swelled in me as I realized why I was making this incredibly tough decision. Allocating more of my future time to be with my wife and son by picking a different career was a significant part of my decision-making process. I couldn't bear the thought of someone else filling the role of husband to my wife and father to my unborn son. In a way, it almost sounds selfish and possessive. But it was out of my love for them- I knew that they also would not want anyone else to fill this role in their lives. I'm not saying marriage in a surgical field isn't possible, but I am saying that marriage in a non-surgical field is much more possible.
And my pride. My stubborn, stubborn pride. Unless I chose a surgical subspecialty, I would be giving up the title I had been chasing after all along- Surgeon. Perhaps it was pride that carried me forward from the end of my general surgery rotation, I'm not sure. The silver lining at the time was that because I had scheduled General Surgery so early in 3rd year, I still had plenty of time to adjust my rotation schedule and build in time to pursue other fields, like Urology, Anesthesiology, and Emergency Medicine.
Urology was my last hope at still being able to call myself a surgeon someday. I enjoyed my month of half-clinic and half-OR time, although my wife got upset with me on my first day. My phone died and I was stuck in the ORs until 9:45 PM- Oops! What I loved about Urology was all of the options that you could give patients. A man comes in with BPH and there's a myriad of treatments that the patient gets to choose from. It felt very patient-centered to me. The problem with Urology is that it is so specialized. I felt that a career in this field would lead me to throw out 85% of what I had learned in medical school up to that point. I wasn't ready to give up my passion for taking care of really sick people, especially sick hearts.
The picture began to clear up as I started my Anesthesiology rotation. Not knowing much at all about the field, I quickly learned that Anesthesiology, more than any other field I had encountered, was very much of an iceberg. What I mean by that is few people other than anesthesiologists actually know what anesthesiologists do. There was so much more under the surface going on, especially when it came to fascinating physiology and pharmacology- the twins of anesthesia.
When I spent time in the cardiac OR on the other side of the drape as an anesthesiology med student, I was blown away at the complexity of physiology. I quickly fell in love again- here I was, in some small way taking care of the sickest patients around, especially patients with sick hearts. It was here that my passion inside the four walls of the hospital complemented my goals outside of the hospital- being the best husband and father that I could be.
And so, having navigated this wonderful journey thus far, I have now plotted my future course. I am pursuing a career in cardiac anesthesiology, and I am very, very happy with my decision.
In regards to the time I "wasted" pursuing surgery, I have a piece of advice for you. If you're reading this, you are a very hard worker. It is a major accomplishment in itself to get accepted to medical school. You owe it to yourself to follow your passion, whatever it may be. If a passion for surgery or medicine or pediatrics or pathology has brought you this far, you owe it to yourself to follow it and find out the truth for yourself. Although I could have considered other options earlier, I am proud that I stuck to my guns and made the decision of medicine vs. surgery based not on what someone else persuaded me to do, but on what I experienced first-hand. That was the better way.
A few disclaimers...
I have received some feedback from readers saying that they have identified with my sentiment about surgery. I want to be clear that I was pursuing General Surgery and its subspecialties, not any of the separate training programs like Orthopedics, Urology, Ophthalmology, or Dermatology. I would also like to say that WE NEED SURGEONS! Our country needs medical students who are passionate about a career in general surgery and are willing to make the sacrifice necessary to become great at what they do.
I believe that the old way of malignant surgical training is passing away, albeit more slowly at some institutions than others. I honestly wonder if I would be writing about "Why I Chose Surgery" right now if I had done my rotation at a different institution, or even with a different set of superiors. Another major factor for me was my family- if I was unmarried/unpaired, a surgical residency would not have sounded so daunting. So take my tale with a grain of salt. This was very much an emotionally-driven n=1 account of my decision making process.
I hope that you have gained at least a small amount of perspective. I welcome your thoughts, especially those who have had a different experience than I have. Thanks for reading along!