10 December 2006

How I chose surgery

I can vividly remember starting my third year of medical school. My school chose our third-year schedules for us and I remember some of the angst of my fellow classmates when our schedules were posted during the summer between our second and third years. I was in the midst of a wonderful Pathology fellowship that I had received for scoring very high in my Pathology course. I was assigned to various Medical Examiners offices and to the Pathology Departements of a couple of very large teaching hospitals. I had been spending the summer doing everything from crime scene investigation to transfusion medicine to bone marrow transplant. It had been a great summer. I was very strongly considering Pathology and Transfusion Medicine as my specialty.

I stopped by my Dean of Academic Affairs office and was told to wait for my USMLE Step I scores. The school had received them before I had received them. I took a deep breath because I really hadn't prepared myself for facing the prospect that I might have failed that test. I sat in a chair outside the Dean's inner office and ran a couple of scenarios as to what I would do if I had failed. I would quickly sign up for a retest and I would only miss one rotation at the start of third year. Since I was doing Pathology, I could study in between cases and get my preceptors to help me with covering the material.

The Dean came out and handed me a sheet of paper. I had to just sit there in disbelief. Not only had I passed, I had done extremely well. I was on my way. It was hard to hold back the tears of joy because I had studied about two and a half weeks for Step I. My fellowship had the requirement that I take Step I by the second week in May and my last exam from second year was on April 28th. I would be starting third year and I would be starting third year on Pediatrics with one of my best friends as my rotation partner. Life was good... I found out later that two people from my class did not pass USMLE Step I. It was very sad because one girl ran down the hall screaming and sobbing when she received her score. That put loads of people on edge.

I started third year on Pediatrics. It was a good rotation and I received Honors. I really enjoyed taking care of patients and I was very popular with the residents because I could place IVs and draw blood. I had also spent loads of time with an excellent pediatric pathologist so I knew my congenital defects inside and out. I could interpret cath reports and I was quite comfortable in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I had been a Pediatric-Perinatal Respiratory Therapist before starting medical school so the interns found me quite useful.

My second rotation was Psychiatry. This was one of my best required clerkships. I knew that I wasn't going into Psychiatry (you know these things early) so I was free to enjoy the rotation and pick up anything that I could. My preceptor was an excellent Consultation-Liasion Psychiatrist who exposed us to everything from the wards for the criminally insane to hard-core substance abusers to schizophrenics and other stuff. I earned another Honors grade and got some excellent experience. I learned above all that I was not crazy, my friends are not crazy because I spent loads of "quality time" around people who were genuine crazy.

My third rotation was Family Medicine. I had a great preceptor who even delivered babies. This rotatation was entirely office based but I learned to do prenatal exams and care for entire families. I also learned how and when to refer which is great stuff to know. My preceptor was extremely brainy and "pimped" me on just about everything. Turns out this was a good test for USMLE Step II because we either discussed or I had to report on most everything in Family Medicine that was on the shelf exam or on USMLE Step II. I received Honors for this rotation but decided that I really did not enjoy being out of the hospital too often. I also did not enjoy the slow pace of the office.

Holiday break came and I was happy to be done with shelf exams and rotations for five weeks. I knew that Surgery was coming up and my friends had warned me to be ready for two months of pure hell. The rotation is designed so that you spend your first month on General Surgery on one of two services: Trauma or General Surgery. I drew Trauma out of the hat and I received the condolances of my classmates. I figured, "you can do anything that you want with me but you can't stop that clock." No matter how bad, in four weeks, it would be over.

I was hooked on Surgery from my first case. It was a total colectomy with four females operating. My chief resident was female, the junior resident was female, the attending was female and I was female. We talked about shoes and Chanel suits during the case. I tied tons of knots and helped the junior resident close the incision. It was heaven. I found out that I loved Trauma and I couldn't wait to be on call every third day. I had the time of my life and I loved everything about surgery.

My next month was spent on ENT and then on Cardio-thoracic and Vascular Surgery. I scrubbed every case that was assigned to me and many cases that were assigned to some of my colleagues. I becamed hooked on Vascular Surgery during that rotation. I loved the detective atmosphere on Vascular and loved taking care of the patients. My chief resident on Vascular taught me some great pearls about making sure that even with an amputatation, fashioning a well-constructed stump can make the difference between ambulating and not ambulating for the patient. It was great stuff.

After Surgery, I rotated through OB-Gyn. I hated everything about this specialty. This rotation became my only High Pass during third year. I just couldn't get into delivering babies and I wasn't thrilled with tubal ligations. I wasn't thrilled with spending too much time in the clinics and offices. The one bright spot was the Gyn surgeries which I excelled at. I learned the surgical anatomy like a sponge but I knew that this was not going to be the specialty for me.

I finished up on Medicine and Neurology. This would be my final sixteen weeks of third year. I was fortunate to have medicine last because this made study for USMLE Step II a snap. I totally enjoyed Medicine and Neurology but my heart was back in surgery. All of my Pathology experience really paid off because I aced these rotations and moved onto fourth year.

My faculty advisor was chairman of surgery and helped pave the way for my entry into this specialty. I was also co-president of the Surgical Society during my fourth year which also helped. My USMLE scores were good so this helped too. I had some awesome interviews and I landed at a great residency program. My experiencs began there and they keep on.

As I continue to write, I will be posting more of my experiences.


Jacqueline said...

that's awesome! I hope to get to surgery someday too :)

Meg said...

You can definitely tell by the way you write about surgery that your heart is there. I hope that not only will I be lucky enough to go to med school, but that if I do, a specialty I was meant for will speak to me like surgery spoke to you.