3 things that make a surgeon great

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I wasn’t the first simple country surgeon, you know.

When I was a resident, our training program broke us into two teams — one that served general surgery, pediatric surgery, and trauma; the other, general surgery, transplant, and oncology.  Every day was an intricate dance to see all the patients (generally between 20 and 40) for the assigned team, operate all day, and interface with the staff surgeon for each of the patients to review their progress.

It was a busy place, and an interesting place — for although the surgical service afforded us vast opportunities to learn our trade, the hospital itself was located in a rural setting.  Back when I was there, it was a one-stoplight town.  If you were driving through and you blinked, you might miss it.

Our attending surgeons had all come from academia, prior to settling there, and were all highly skilled, highly trained surgeons with the additional qualification of being exceptionally caring, focused on patient care and on teaching.  They had all done reams of research, published papers, and parked their cars in multi-tiered garages for a not so nominal fee.  They had all acquired the knowledge the world has to offer in their own particular field of surgery, and then escaped to the country.   To my recollection, it was Camelot.

One of these attendings, a cancer surgeon, Dr. Woods, was chatty and bubbly, and yet always trained on affording the best surgical care a cancer patient could ever hope for.  He loved to lecture about cancer surgery, and never tired of repeating his lessons, as the years went by and older residents graduated, replaced by newer ones.  I can’t even count the number of times I heard him talking about the Nigro protocol — in fact, when I close my eyes, I can still hear his voice, still see his face, telling the new intern about it, like it was just invented yesterday.  He was a remarkable man, and I was fortunate to be able to learn from him.

And yet, because we were in this (huge hospital in this) small country town, sometimes patients or their families questioned whether the newest fad diet or vitamin pill wouldn’t be better than the cancer treatment they were undergoing.  And to this, he would always reply, “What do I know?  I’m just a simple country surgeon.”

As the years have gone by, this remark has only become funnier and funnier to me.  Because you see, it underscores the essence of what makes a great surgeon.  Is it their name tag?  Their scrub size?  The color of their skin?  What clothes they wear?  Their geography?  Their gender?  Their hair cut?

Go ahead and take whomever you think is a great surgeon — and start changing things up.  What is it that cannot be changed, without losing their greatness?  I submit to you it is three things:

Hands.

Mind.

Heart.

“Hope Amantine” is a surgeon who blogs at Simple Country Surgeon.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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