Professionalism in Surgery

Surgery is a field that is still predominated by men in most specialties. Because of this, women have to be assertive and tough to get into this field. I have noticed than many female surgeons are very conscious of how their coworkers are perceiving them. For example, one female surgeon mentioned that she used to enjoy baking and bringing treats in to work to share, but she feels she can’t anymore because thought her coworkers would see her as a “mother figure” and that would make her less of a surgeon. Many of the female surgeons I have worked with were hardworking, intelligent and kind people. But unfortunately one surgeon stood out to me for lack of professionalism. Our interaction first began when I introduced myself, to which her response was to glance at me and walk away. Later in the OR, she asked me to tell her everything I knew about the patient. I told her the patient’s pertinent HPI, past medical history, surgical history, social history and family history. I told her about the relevant work-up she received and why she needed this surgery. She asked me multiple questions that I was able to answer, but then she asked me a question that I did not know the answer to. She immediately told me it was unacceptable that I was not prepared and she would give me a bad evaluation. The next time I was in the OR with her, an intern was also in the OR. The surgeon told her to go ahead and cut through the layer of fat and continuously yelled at her to cut faster and faster through the fat and fascia. Suddenly, she yelled to stop cutting and then berated her for cutting too far. There was no winning. Each time I was in her OR, she demanded things from the OR staff and anesthesiologist without a please or thank you. She intermittently let them know they were performing at a subpar level. It was shocking behavior that was extremely unprofessional. It was obvious that her behavior was not inspiring anyone to work harder or be better, but instead made everyone feel like giving up. I felt it was no use to try to prepare, because even when I spent hours trying to study the night before, it still wouldn’t be enough. I wondered if her behavior stemmed from the feeling of needing to be tough and assertive to make it in the field of surgery or if it was just from stress. But whatever the reason, it was unacceptable.

Professionalism to me, is being able to excel at your job, be respectful to people around you and be a role model. There was one such surgeon who really inspired me. In the OR, she would ask me questions about the patient and about the surgery. When I knew the answers, she would let me know that it was great I came prepared, and when I did not know the answer she would ask me to look it up later and email it to her. This respectful interaction made me want to come to surgeries prepared and to look up relevant information. When I was assisting in surgery, she would let me know she thought I was capable of doing certain tasks and complimented me when I did things well. When I did something she did not like, she let me know and told me why I should not do it that way. She was direct and assertive, without being derogatory or rude. She built strong relationships with her patients, which allowed them to trust her. Experiencing these different situations has really made me aware of how acting professional, or not can influence all those around you.

Professionalism is judged in many ways, by patients and coworkers. I hope to get to know my coworkers well so we can develop a mutual respect for each other, which allows for better communication. Patients often value when their physician listens to their goals and explains their diagnosis and plan clearly. My goal is to seek feedback from an attending after each rotation, so they can evaluate my professionalism during the first six months of my intern year.

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