Please change the culture of surgery

It is December 2017. I have been on the road for the last five months, completing my five months of elective rotations. I am a fourth-year medical student aspiring to specialize in family medicine. I also want to learn procedures, so I did two months of surgery, three months of family practice electives. At the beginning of this process, I had wanted to be a general surgeon, but I ended up choosing family medicine.

Back in third year, I had very auspicious rotations in rural Appalachia where I was one on one with a few general surgeons. I loved it; the hours were not too bad and the weekend calls were thrilling. Three attending surgeons whom I loved suggested to me that I go on to a surgical residency; I went and set up two auditions to see what surgical life was truly like.

On my first surgical rotation in Pennsylvania, I was devastated, yelled at, berated. Repeatedly surgical residents told me I was not good enough, chastised me for tying a knot too tight or too loose, or one centimeter to the left. I worked over 80 hours a week, sometimes in the 100s. But still, this was not good enough for them. After hearing the vascular attending go insane because insurance denied his patient from getting a recovery enhancing blood treatment, I began to experience dissociation. Mornings became nights and nights became mornings. To the residents, I was simply a body to be used: “Hold this retractor here.” I did not move for four hours. Later, “take this paper to the nursing station.” A paper scut monkey, as they called us. After one month of being told I would be “speared and bled out” if I messed up, I finished my audition rotation, packed my bags, and vowed never to return to this town ever again.

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