Saint Louis University medical student
My father was diagnosed with colon cancer 4 years ago. He underwent surgery as well as chemotherapy, necessitating his stay in the hospital. With the hours he had, trapped in a hospital bed, he began to write his autobiography. This exercise was his method of taking stock of his life, the mental challenge of grappling with his own mortality by systematically revisiting the trials and tribulations that brought him to where he was. Based on his writings and reflecting on my father’s persona, if he asked me to title his autobiography, I would select : Physician, Father, Researcher, and Activist. Physician before all else simply because it was more than a profession, it describes his ethos, how he went about doing everything else he did in life.
Should I ever complete a similar mental exercise, the title of my autobiography will begin, “: Surgeon”. My first year in medical school exposed me to a handful of specialties and dozens of subspecialties. Finding and choosing a specialty was daunting as many appeared to peak my interests. In an attempt to gain better perspective, I decided to spend as much time in the hospital as possible in the summer between my 1st and 2nd years. I contacted several departments at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NWM) in Chicago about shadowing their physicians. My schedule started me on the Trauma Surgery and Critical Care service and rotated between different departments every week. I never ended up leaving the Trauma Surgery service.
Though I spent time in other department’s clinics and floors, I would always gravitate back to the Trauma service. I was fortunate to be at NWM in June when there is a traditional break between 3rd and 4th year for medical students, leaving me the sole medical student in the entire hospital and the only student on a surgical service. This gave me an unparalleled opportunity to explore my interest in surgery. The residents tried to direct me to what they thought would be interesting cases as well as those that I would be of use. My transforming experience that summer, in particular the 200 or so hours in the hospital those two weeks being the only medical student, exposed me to three aspects of surgery that convinced me that I was destined to be a surgeon: the surgical problems, surgical patients and surgeon characteristics.
Surgical problems and patients are difficult, complex and unique. Surgery is an assault on the human body. A surgeon must contend not only with the patient’s natural decline in health, but also the infliction that we cause trying to help. They must deal with three distinct, but complicated problem areas; pre-operative: whether or not to operate, operative: the marriage of medical knowledge and the technical skill and post-operative: management of wounds, infections and a whole host of potential complications. These problems represent the pinnacle of intellectual challenges and are life altering for patients. I cannot imagine anything more rewarding than dedicating my life to solving them.
The uniqueness of surgical problems requires surgeons to not only be intelligent, diligent physicians, but also creative, good with their hands, work well under pressure, decisive and good team leaders. These are all characteristics that throughout my life I have aspired to. I am eager to realize these aspirations as I continue my medical education as a surgical resident.