I’ve just completed the general surgery portion of my surgery clerkship. I spent my four weeks of general surgery at the VA hospital. The VA, of course, is a clinical environment like any other hospital, but it has some peculiar quirks that made it an especially enjoyable place to explore.
For example, there is a canteen in the basement with a store that sells everything including food, clothes, gifts, and even electronics! My favorite part of the Patriot Store is the candy aisle. The selection is huge and includes candies that I haven’t seen on shelves in years. I made sure to pick up some nostalgic family favorites, like Zero bars.
The basement also has a small cafeteria, with booth seating and a television in the back corner. I spent several lunches listening to afternoon soap operas and game shows. Since the cafeteria is in the basement, WiFi and cellular data are nearly impossible to come by, so I’ve had time to relax and enjoy a little television with my lunch.
Of course, beyond the retail and entertainment experiences, one of the best features of the VA is the patients. They are a truly special group of people. Most were happy to share stories of their time in the service, and I tried to ask and learn more whenever I had a chance. I was fortunate to be able to speak with veterans of WWII, veterans who had returned home recently, and everyone in between, which was an educational experience all by itself.
Another feature of the VA that I appreciated was the variety of surgeries I was able to see. Instead of spending four weeks focused on just colorectal cases, for example, I found myself in a wide range of cases that helped me see many different types of surgery. I saw simple things like excisions of lipomas and epidermal inclusion cysts, but I also saw an abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, several Whipple procedures, and an esophagectomy. I am definitely glad to have seen so many different pathologies and surgeries.
All in all, my experience at the VA was very positive. I’m glad I heeded the recommendations of my peers and residents and did my general surgery work there. In fact, I liked it so much that I may try to schedule some of my internal medicine clerkship at the VA too! For now though, there are still four more weeks of surgery to go, and then the pediatrics clerkship. In a few months, I’ll look forward to visiting the VA again.