The third year of medical school is widely regarded as the most difficult year, and of the third year clerkships, surgery is widely regarded as the hardest. I just finished my surgery clerkship – a long 12 weeks that definitely exerted a physical and emotional toll on me. Yet I survived, and somehow came out of it more interested a career involving surgery.
Being a medical student on a surgery service is tough. There’s the physical toll – I would often get up around 5 am, long before the sun rose, and make the trek through deserted roads to the hospital. After a long day of standing in the OR, walking around the hospital, and often no time to eat, I would get home after the sun set, with only a few precious hours to relax before having to do it all again. There’s also the emotional toll – I was often the only medical student on service, with not much guidance on how to behave or perform. The surgical residents, although nicer than stereotypes would have you believe, often didn’t have time to teach, being busy with their clinical duties. Therefore, I was always struggling to learn things on my own, under the watchful and judging eyes of attendings, residents, and nurses. It sucked being the lowest tier of the hospital ladder, and I was constantly reminded of it.
But beyond the long hours and stress, there is a certain magic to surgery. To take patients with colon cancer, appendicitis, bowel perforation – basically death sentences only a hundred years ago – and effectively cure them within a matter of hours in the OR? That was pretty amazing. And although I couldn’t do much as a medical student, the things I could do – suturing skin, putting in staples, using the bovie – were engrossing. There was an immense satisfaction in making such a huge difference in a patient’s life, and I could see how people would dedicate their careers towards one in surgery.
I’m incredibly glad to be done with my surgery rotation. However, as I look forward to my remaining rotations, I think I’ll miss the OR a little bit. As for my future career plans, I think I’m increasingly leaning towards a surgical sub-specialty – one with a good balance of work and personal life, as well as medicine and surgery.