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The Mental Torture of a Surgery Rotation

Kristenheinan272x721_5Kristen Heinan -- January brings a rotation through pediatric surgery for me… and a renewed respect for third year. I feel like an old person looking back on "those days" and wondering how I made it through -- pretty pathetic considering that "those days" were just 18 months ago. I had forgotten the joys of the surgical mindset.

I don’t mind the early mornings, in fact, I quite like the early part of the day. It’s the also-going-until-later-in-the-day that’s a bugger. And all of the semi-hidden yet fully-expected hierarchical rules are stressful (like how we’re not invited to sit at the table during morning rounds -- even though there are empty chairs -- but are relegated to the window bench).

Internal medicine was my ideal schedule: early morning until early afternoon, and then time to look up stuff (often until late at night, but we’ll let that slide). The thing about medicine, too, was that while I was in the hospital I was always busy, and it felt like I was busy doing useful things that actually contributed to patient care. Lots of times on surgery service, I feel like I’m just waiting around for the next case to start, or waiting for others’ cases to be finished so we can all round or something. Don’t get me wrong, if there’s something useful I can be doing, I do it, but unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to happen as much. Sure, I check up on "my patients," but that doesn’t take up all the extraneous "down time" (which is probably a good thing, actually, since that means there aren’t any catastrophes).

Looking back at how I spent time between surgeries during third year, I do remember that I did lots of reading and studying, so why do I feel so awkward doing that this time around? I guess I need to get past the feeling that sitting down and reading will be viewed as "slacking off." A lot of it has to do with something one of the residents said to me the first day, which was that even though she recognized the irrationality of the thought, she didn’t want to be seen "sitting down to eat lunch" because then it would seem like she wasn’t busy enough or something crazy like that. She knew that this really wasn’t true, but it’s still how she felt… and now it’s kind of how I feel, too. I’m just going to have to get past that. I did get to see lots of interesting cases this week, even more of a variety than I thought I would see. I need to focus on enjoying this learning experience, not dreading it.

January 7, 2007 | Permalink


Don't dread. enjoy. Espescially if you are not planning on going into surgery. Surgeons are very succint in their advice/ "what you should do".
I am a surgery intern and feel the same way I did as a med student---- what the heck am i supposed to be doing and how do i fill the in between time......
Oh, yeah, and I've become a superhero at retracting....

Don't worry.... surgeons like their egos to be stroked;... just a ask a question or two (why this suture and not the other, or why this closure....) and you'll be golden.

Posted by: J | Jan 9, 2007 3:43:22 PM

hardly torture though, is it? given the various atrocities going on around the world.

Posted by: | Jan 10, 2007 10:10:05 AM

Wow, I don't remember any free or down time on surgical service. I actually worked at a rural hospital where we went straight through all day. Lunch was rare and a treat. I pre rounded and then rounded and then hit the OR or office. We checked on patients all day, in between labs, radiology, consults and emergencies. Many of the medicine docs consulted the surgeon on any complicated case just to be safe it seemed.

Posted by: Sunny | Jan 10, 2007 5:24:49 PM

Surgeons get more done in an hour than internists do all day. That being said, I'm glad I'm not going into a surgical residency (nor an internal medicine one either). I find that a lot of surgeons pride themselves on how miserable they are, how long their shifts are, how little sleep they get. Good luck to you on your surgery month. I had a great time last year when I did my general surgery rotations even though I would drive as fast as possible post-call so I wouldn't fall asleep behind the wheel, but I guess that's a rite of passage we all go through. I'm just glad I'm limiting it to a few more months in the future instead of 5+ years.

Posted by: DVP | Jan 10, 2007 9:01:33 PM

I 've been working in primary care for a year and I still have six months to go... And I hate it... I want to go into surgery... Surgical Oncology to be exact... My surgical rotation is the best time I can recall from my days as a med-student. It's wird, I understand, but it was when I felt more alive. J is right... Surgeons don't like, but love their egos to be stroked... And if you start asking questions you get to be golden and somewhere down the line you find out you actually like it. So even if you don't like it... Take your time and enjoy it as much as you can. It's the most practical part of what you'll ever do in the future.

Posted by: Nasstasjia | Jan 13, 2007 12:06:52 PM

Hard but necessary, if your interests are from Internal Medicine you can find that some surgery patients are sometimes hospitalized in Medicine Department.
So it should help you for recognize what is yours and what to derive.

Bonne chance,

Posted by: Jessica | Jan 13, 2007 2:37:57 PM

i think the surgeons must be like internist but one kind of internist that make surgery. i want to a surgeon and i like so much critical care. so Im goinn to be intensivist surgeon.

Posted by: Leoanrdo Randial | Jan 13, 2007 7:01:33 PM

You guys have not met my Surgery H.O.D. yet, Prof M.V. Kumar. I'm leaning back and having a laugh here.

Posted by: Prasad Nambiar | Jan 19, 2007 5:43:03 AM

m doin my surgery rotation right now n i know exactly wat u mean...all i seem to be doin hangin out in the wards!i mean i cant even just leave to do other stuff like reading..i need to be there...so i only look fwd to the theatre days...
but i love surgery!

Posted by: drkans | Feb 14, 2007 6:07:24 AM

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