Here are some questions from Lionel, a pre-med student.
What is something you wish you had known before entering medical school?
It would have been nice to have known what changes were going to occur over the 40+ years since I graduated.
If you had the opportunity to choose a specialty all over again, would you do surgery again?
Yes. While I have often envied the controlled lifestyles and flexibility of radiologists and anesthesiologists, I don't think I could have stood the sitting in the dark all day (radiology) or utter boredom 95% of the time (anesthesia).
If not medicine, what other healthcare occupation would you consider to be more rewarding?
It depends on how you define rewarding. It seems to me that being CEO of a hospital is more rewarding financially these days. I have blogged about that. Is it more satisfying on any other level? I don't think so.
Is it possible to carry a healthy relationship where the significant other is not a medical student? Would it be more/less difficult in residency compared to medical school? [this is one I'm mostly interested in especially since you are a surgeon]
I am living proof that it is possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who is not a med student or physician. I met my wife, who is a nurse, when I was an intern. We were married when I was a third-year resident and still going strong at 39 years.
What implications have enduring medical school/residency had on your personality?
I was always kind of a pessimist, but med school and beyond amplified that trait a lot. As some people have written about lately, med school and residency can induce cynicism, and I'm afraid I am a classic example of that.
Does every single day of the year feel stressful or are there days where you feel in control and free to relax?
Since I retired late last year, the days are not particularly stressful right now. When I was an active surgeon, just about every day was very stressful. It took at least the first five days of every vacation to unwind, longer if I had gone away and left a sick patient to be managed by someone else. Here's a link to a post I wrote about "collateral damage," which is about how complications affect surgeons.
I have always dreamed that being a physician would help me feel more connected spiritually to god/universe by seeing all the unfortunate people and being able to lend compassion. However, does being under constant stress distract a physicians focus from that feeling and does it make you just want to finish the job and go home?
There were many days when I just wanted to finish the job and go home. I would like to think though that I was able to get past that and offer my patients the compassion and support they needed.
What do you like/dislike the most about your journey thus far?
I liked the challenge of figuring out what was wrong with a patient and having the ability to fix it. I liked the feeling of satisfaction after helping someone who was really sick get better. Today I got an email from a former patient who is 10 years postop from breast cancer surgery and disease free. Hearing that is hard to beat.
I took every complication, whether it was my fault or not, very personally. That can wear you down. I didn't like the empty feeling that I got when I operated on a patient and found something like incurable cancer. It was frustrating not to be able to do anything about it. It is very hard to look someone in the eye and tell him that the surgery did not solve the problem.