Why I Don’t Plan On Being A Surgeon

“So what kind of doctor are you going to be?” is the first question I generally get asked by family and friends.

If I wrote this blog post a couple of months ago, I would have told you that I considered myself a bit of an anomaly among my family. You see, I am the first among my generation to have chosen the field of medicine for a career. Being the first means getting asked lots of questions because until another medically oriented person pops up, you are the anomaly. That has all changed now, mostly because my brother is now also studying to be a doctor.

There are now three medically oriented persons in my immediate family; my father, myself, and my brother. I suppose we are enough to start our own clinic (a hospital sounds way too ambitious) and if we ever do, in the near future, you bet you can come get special treatment from me! I do appreciate the people who come read my little blog on a regular basis.

So one of the most common questions that I would get asked was “what kind of doctor are you going to be?” and it was and still is a question I am not exactly sure of. You see, I just can’t make up my mind. I can’t choose, I can only slowly eliminate and one of the first things I have eliminated is ‘surgeon’. You can gasp, yes. Here I am, studying a degree called “Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery” and deciding I didn’t want anything to do with half of the degree. People are usually surprised by this decision mostly because (1) the average person thinks surgery must be amazing and (2) they look at my delicate fingers and think “that’s definitely a surgeon’s hands”. Well, time to put an end to all of that. Surgery is not as amazing as everyone thinks and I have also decided to reclaim my fingers and call them an artist’s hand instead. Even though my art is of at the same skill level as surgery…

The last clinical rotation I went through was surgery. I spent four weeks in general surgery, one week in anesthesiology, one week in radiology and two weeks in orthopedics. At the end was a written exam and an OSCE and let me tell you beforehand: it did not go well. At all. Prepare for horrible med student anecdotes coming up.

General Surgery

General Surgery was overall fine, but definitely not fantastic. Taking histories is kind of difficult when you have to ask people about things you don’t know how to explain. For example, it took me such a long time to figure out how to ask people about bowel surgeries and stomas and laparoscopic surgeries because most of the people that I encountered were from a lower socioeconomic background and also did not have any idea of the English and medical jargon I was fluent in. It also doesn’t help when they don’t give their own histories very readily. I can’t even tell you how many times I ended up with a jumbled history that I painstakingly cleared up and presented to a doctor only to find out that I had missed out a ton of things that the patient omitted and maybe even got the timeline of events all wrong.

The thing with surgery is that it’s too radical. It abruptly changes the course of a patient’s disease and introduces new factors like infections and interventions. Keeping track of all of this is not as easy as it is in medicine (in my opinion at least). There’s also the fact that if a surgery doesn’t succeed, there are often multiple surgeries done. Sometimes the patient isn’t even fully aware of the details of the surgery they have gone through.

Examining patients was also difficult, especially if they were post-operative. One of the major examinations of surgery is inguinal hernia examination and let’s be clear right from the start: I do not like touching people. I DO NOT LIKE TOUCHING PEOPLE. I have managed to get through with most of my discomfort and can ask people to lift their shirt and let me examine their abdomen. I’m even fine with breast and axilla examinations now. Pants? No. Nope. NOPE. I cannot deal with pants at the moment. My legitimate first inguinal examination happened right at the OSCE station. I bet you can imagine that. It didn’t help that the patient was a young male and was just as uncomfortable, if not more than, I was. I really messed that station up and it has only strengthened my resolve of not going into surgery.

Anesthesiology

Anesthesia was a lot better. There wasn’t much to examine and there was a lot of interesting practical work that I got to do, as well as watch surgeries without being scrubbed in. I could see myself going to anesthesia, definitely. During my rotation there, one incident that kind of scared me a bit was when the anesthesiologist had given the patient anesthesia and muscle relaxants. The other staff had left for quick errands before the surgery started, the surgeons themselves had not arrived and it was just me and my friend and the anesthesiologist with the patient when they suddenly started twitching and flailing, almost falling off the bed. It was a little scary but the anesthesiologist quickly upped the dose and got the patient settled again. It just goes to show how surgery is not a one-man show. You need an entire team and it needs to be there. If we hadn’t been there to hold the patient down, the patient might have really hurt themselves before the anesthesiologist could’ve gotten anything done.


Radiology

I have… mixed feelings about radiology. My mother wants me to be a radiologist because she thinks it will be a nice and easy field that I would be able to continue working in. Don’t get me wrong, radiology sounds fun but…

My first day of the radiology rotation involved going to the Interventional Radiology department. It’s a subspecialty of radiology that overlaps with surgery and for the record, I thought it was really cool. It also helped that one of the consultants there was pretty nice to me and told me a bit about how he ended up in interventional radiology. It’s like the perfect mix of no patient interaction and minor surgery since interventional radiology involves working through wires and holes and using imaging to make sure you’re on the right track. The cases are short (maybe 1-2 hours per case?) which isn’t bad compared to cases that happened in the main operating theater. I could also definitely see myself going into interventional radiology.

The next day was spent with the MRI machine and that was not fun. The consultant there sent me to the MRI console and told me to ask the technician to orient me to the machine and imaging. The technician there was absolutely awful and I hope I never see his face again. He asked me what I knew about MRI and I scraped up whatever I could remember from physics that I studied four to five years ago only to have him say that I was wrong.
Me: MRI involves the magnetic field that each atom creates when the magnet aligns the poles-
Him: Nope
Me: Excuse me?
Him: Didn’t you study this topic?
Me: Yeah, over five years ago!
Him: Then why don’t you remember?
Me: *spluttering at this point and deciding it was better to shut up than blurt out something harsh*
Him: The boy who came yesterday knew everything about MRI. Why don’t you know?
Me: …
Him: So you’re not as smart as him?
Me: Are you going to tell me about MRI or not?
Him: Well, the truth is, I only know as much as you do so I can’t really help you.
Me: *trying very hard not to bang my head against the wall*
Me: Cool alright, I’ll just leave then.

This one dude really made me hate the radiology department for a moment and made me want to drop everything and just go study what I wanted to study, but of course I wouldn’t do that. After that fiasco, I went into the reporting room and sat with one of the doctors and awkwardly watched her work over her shoulder. Then I was told to take a break and come back at a specified time. I did as I was told and came back at the right time and waited almost 45 minutes for the consultant to come back. She then gave me an MRI atlas to study on a computer and I fell asleep on the desk. It was a lot of fun. Absolutely fantastic.

So fantastic that I took the next day off because it was for CT and it was set up in pretty much the same way as MRI. The day afterward was ultrasound. It was comparatively better than MRI except I still haven’t been able to understand what I’m looking at when I see an ultrasound. The imaging is a lot different from MRI and CT scan which are basically cross sections of the body. The last day was X-ray which was also alright. I watched a few X-rays get taken, read stuff up on Wikipedia and had a consultant walk me through a couple of films and pathologies.

Overall, it wasn’t so bad. Again, I thought I could do that kind of thing (provided I didn’t fall asleep).

Orthopedics

Oh boy, get ready for a truckload of salt here. For orthopedics, we had to shadow consultants and it was one student per consultant. I wasn’t picky about which consultant I would get, so I ended up with… the consultant I ended up with. The first day wasn’t bad, we spent it in the OR and I got to scrub in and hold stuff.

The second day, I couldn’t find my consultant anywhere. Granted, it was because I attended another class (which I had told my consultant about) and then I got back and checked in at his office and nobody knew where he was. I called him three times and he didn’t pick up. On the third call, his phone was turned off. It was ridiculous. I then went looking for him in the OR and spent at least thirty minutes there just wandering around before giving up and going home (technically). Ten minutes later, a classmate texts me that the consultant was in the OR and that he was looking for me.

The third day, the consultant didn’t come at all cause it’s his day off.

The fourth day, its me and another girl and I decide that this time, I’m not going to run around looking for the consultant. So when his OPD hours started, we sat in his office and waited for him. The nurses there told us he was just on his way, just two minutes, just five minutes, just on his way. We took a history or two from the orthopedic patients. We waited there in the OPD for over three hours before giving up and going home.

The fifth day, the consultant is kinda mad (?) that we keep looking for him and never find him and what’s going on? And who’s fault is that?? At this point, I had had enough with orthopedics. I am not dying to go into orthopedics and I have absolutely no incentive or motivation to bend my back for this consultant who likes disappearing and constantly poking fun and making points at me. He’d started making it a running joke “Oh, so how long did you spend looking for me this time?”. Just because of that, I skipped the rest of the orthopedic rotation, choosing to stay at home and focus on my anxiety about the OSCE and exams.


Surgery OSCE

OSCEs turn me into a bundle of nerves. I spent the entire week in a weird sort of limbo where  I couldn’t study or focus on anything and I just wanted everything to be over as soon as possible. As a result, I pretty much ended up knocking my hurdles over instead of jumping over them the way I was supposed to. I guess, by some definitions, surgery made me miserable overall. It’s just not the thing for me.

One of the surgeons mentioned that the beauty of surgery is its finality. It’s either there or it isn’t. There are no variations, the way there might be in medicine. I think it’s the concept of this finality and the fact that there’s no gray area, no room for wandering thoughts in surgery is what makes it feel so rigid and stressful to me. Then there’s the long hours and the constant standing- surgery is very physically demanding and I don’t think I can do that kind of job! All of these reasons culminated in making surgery, as a subject, more difficult for me to deal with. The OSCE went okay though, considering I went in with the intention of failing and messing things up.

Well, that’s a short brief summary of how my surgery rotation went! What do you think about surgery? Is it something that you would also get into if you had the chance? Have a nice day!

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Author: Kanra Khan

I'm a Pakistani American student of medicine, or more precisely, an almost-graduate of MBBS Class of 2019. I like to write about my experiences in med school and my adventures in life, which range from traveling, to art, to blogging and photography. Like what you're seeing so far? Consider exploring a bit more! The Lunar Descent is endless.

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