How Adversity Has Made Me A Better Surgeon

 

If you asked me what my favorite thing to do is, I would have to answer: “Operate!”

Maybe that sounds weird to you, but I truly love what I do. I feel incredibly blessed to get to remove disease that causes pain and suffering and put things right for my patients. It is deeply satisfying to help people heal.

I love taking something that is broken and making it beautiful with my hands.

This love of creating wholeness out of brokenness sustains me in my daily practice as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. It pushes me through the difficult times–especially when I encounter obstacles in my practice.

Much has been written about the obstacles that women face as surgeons.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how referrals to all female surgeons in the same specialty dropped 54% after the death of patient cared for by a single female surgeon. The researchers were shocked to discover that referrals to all female surgeons in the same specialty dropped dramatically even if they did not have adverse outcomes. Male surgeons in the same study did not experience any drop in referrals when they experienced the death of a patient. The authors concluded “men appear to be treated as individuals while woman are not.”

As I thought about these results, I was saddened. Moving past the sadness, I began to think about what positive things can come out of this type of bias for a female surgeon. One possible result is that female surgeons have little margin for error in their clinical practice. This means in practical terms that if you are a female surgeon, you need to make fewer mistakes than a male surgeon. This can lead to better outcomes for patients.

A report published last year in the British Medical Journal found that female surgeons have lower death rates, less complications and fewer readmissions to the hospital a month after their procedure as compared to male surgeons. Another study published by the Harvard School of Public Health attributed the superior outcomes that female surgeons enjoy to the female surgeon’s ability to communicate with their patient and to engage the patient in order to ensure compliance with medications and postoperative instructions.

The challenges that I have faced in my career due to bias have produced a profound sense of gratitude for the patients I operate on each day and the physicians, dentists and others who entrust their patients and loved ones to me for care. Their trust and overwhelming support gives me courage. Each patient, family member and referral relationship is precious and not to be taken for granted.

I can say that out of the suffering that I have endured as a female surgeon emerges a great gift: a heart of compassion for others who suffer.

And my heart of compassion is what nourishes and drives me to be the best that I can be technically and emotionally for my patients, their families and the referring doctors that I serve.

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