Shadowing a Surgeon…again

Hi friends! I haven’t posted at all during this semester, I’ve been more active on my Instagram page, but I wanted to write a bit about my experience shadowing another surgeon last week. Quick “get to know me”: I’m a pre-med student at Albion College, major: exercise science, future plans: pediatric surgeon!

I shadowed quite a few health care providers in high school from doctors to PAs to nurses. I wrote about all of them as well…go check it out!

So this surgeon is a friend of my mom’s from her camp counselor days. I shadowed him one other time about a year and a half ago. Now that I’m in college, I decided to shadow him again so that I could actually observe in the OR as well as office hours. I got to the hospital at 6am, and we immediately started the day.

I got to wear scrubs! They are hospital issued scrubs, and I couldn’t find the right size so they weren’t the most comfortable things to wear all day, but it was worth it.

We started by rounding on his post-op patients and seeing some new consults. One of the chief general surgery residents rounded with us! She was so smart and gave her opinion/asking him questions. He wanted to know her opinion on lots of things. There were several times where he took her advice and changed his plan. It was interesting to see that dynamic and to know that one day I’ll have all of that knowledge and be able to make those decisions!

*One thing that stood out to me was the male-female ratio. I didn’t see any female surgeons. There were female surgery residents, and female surgeons in other specialties (Ob/Gyn), but not general. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I was still surprised.*

Then, he started surgery. I got to see two operations. He was the head surgeon and the same resident was his first assist. He talked to me during the operations, showed me the anatomy, and made sure that I understood what he was doing. The scrub nurse talked to me too. Of course, she was trying to convince me why nursing is the better option…which I’m used to. More on that later in the post:)

Then we did office hours. I was able to see a lot of variety. I saw two in office procedures, several post-op patients, and several new patients. It was a long day, 19 office patients in total. I was exhausted at the end, but I absolutely loved it. I loved the comraderie and collaboration among the surgical attendings and residents. It was an amazing atmosphere that I can see myself thriving in.

After talking to the scrub nurse, though, I really took the time to think why I want to be a doctor instead of a nurse. Something that the surgeon told me at the end of the day really helped me put my feelings into words. He said, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I feel insignificant. When I sit here and think about what I did just today, that’s incredible. I can walk around here (the hospital) and have all of this knowledge and know that I make a real difference in someone’s life.”

That being said, I know that nurses are incredible health care providers, and they have the most direct patient care in relation to doctors. I know that they are very smart, and make real differences in patients’ lives. However, my view of my future life lines up more with being a doctor. I want to be the person that sees a patient and is able to diagnose and then treat that person. I want to be able to collaborate with other providers and advocate for what I think my patient needs. I think that surgery, whether that’s pediatric, general, Ob/Gyn, neuro, etc. is really for me. I would get that mix of OR time where I have to think on my feet and put all of my knowledge to work and office visits where I get to put patients at ease and create a personal connection with them.

A huge consideration that I need to think about though is work-life balance. I want to be a surgeon. I want to be married and have kids. I think I can have it all. Sure, there will be sacrifices and long hours away from a family, but it can be done.

I’ve spent some time thinking about advice I would have for people looking to shadow, a surgeon specifically.

Tips:

  • Get a good night of sleep the night before
  • Know where you are going before you get there or give yourself plenty of time to figure it out
  • Are you going to be able to change into scrubs? Then wear comfy clothes there so that you can be comfortable at the end of a long day. Or no scrubs? Then wear the appropriate business type clothes. Ask the person you are following to be sure!
  • ASK QUESTIONS. And then ask a few more. Typically, if a doctor or nurse is letting you shadow them, they are going to be more than willing to answer any question that you have. That being said, know when to ask the question. Unless your doctor specifically asks if you have a question during a direct patient encounter, I would say keep your mouth shut. But when it’s just the two of you, go ahead and speak up. You will have a much better experience if you do this…not to mention you’ll make a better impression on the person that you’re following. At the end of my day, my surgeon told me that he would be happy to write any letter that I need, and I’m welcome back anytime. Interact with your doctor! It will be more fun; I promise.
  • In the OR, don’t be too sensitive. If they tell you to move here, do this, or stop doing that, just listen to them. They aren’t mad at you, but they do have a person’s life in their hands, and they are responsible for you. Just listen to them and move on.
  • In the OR, if you start to feel sick or worried about anything, please step back from the table or go sit down. It is better to miss something than to pass out onto the sterile field. I promise you that the doctors and nurses aren’t going to think any less of you. They know it is one of your first times in the OR and seeing a surgery. They remember how they felt in your position. Also, don’t get discouraged if you get sick or something. I know from other experiences that I get nauseous fairly easily just watching something (which didn’t happen this time!!). But when I am hands on and doing it myself, everything else just disappears and I’m completely focused. I talked to my surgeon about this later after surgery, and he said the same thing. The 2nd surgery he had that morning was a 3 and a half hour surgery. He told me that he wasn’t tired, hungry, or sore during surgery. As soon as he was done, his back started to hurt, he was starving, and really needed to go to the bathroom.
  • Remember that basically everything you see is confidential. One doctor I shadowed told me that anything about the doctors or nurses was open for discussion. Anything with a patient though is off limits.
  • Have so much fun! It’s an honor to shadow doctors/nurses/etc. Treat it as such!

Now. I didn’t go home after I was done at the hospital. I had planned on it, but lo and behold a snow storm hit and hit hard! I drove for about 20 minutes before I had to stop. I called my mom, and she said that the roads at our house (about 2 hours away) were even worse than where I was. So I stopped at a hotel, but they told me I had to be 21 to get a room. I went to get dinner, and my mom called around to other hotels to see if there was a place that I could check in as an 18 year old. She finally found one, thank goodness. So she reserved the room for me. BUT then my phone died! So I was stuck in a hotel in Columbus, no phone, no charger *note to self: always take a charger with you everywhere*.

It was fine though. I took a shower and crashed at about 9:00. The next morning, I went out to my car and tried to turn on my GPS…but it wouldn’t turn on for more than 30 seconds at a time. My phone wasn’t charging enough for me to use it either. So, I got myself home with no GPS and no phone. Now, coming from a very directionally challenged person, I was very proud of myself!

One more note: my waitress at the restaurant that night and the manager of the hotel the next morning really made my trip better. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. Then this whole thing happened, and I just wanted to go home. I was on the verge of tears probably from being tired and hungry and a little scared. But the waitress was so nice to me. I ordered a mocha, and then she offered to bring me another free one. She did a lot to make sure that I was okay, and she was so sweet. Then, the manager the next morning, as I was checking out, acted like a grandmother, and made sure that I was okay and told me to be careful on the way home. This is just a reminder to remember to be kind to everyone you meet. Those two women probably have no idea that they helped me that much. We probably don’t realize the impact we have on people either.

So there you have my first solo adventure. It was a success:) If you made it this far, thanks for reading!! Have an amazing day and a Merry Christmas. If you have any questions, email me or DM on Instagram!! I’d love to hear from you.

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