Meanness about surgeons

This past weekend a Major Medical Blog (which I refuse to link to because this is the 2nd time they have published an incredibly inflammatory piece about surgeons and surgeon behavior that was anonymous and likely not-fully-founded) published a piece that was described as advice for parents of surgeons.  It essentially consisted of advice to be downright mean, entirely lacking in compassion, and the type of person that no one actually aspires to be unless they are a sociopath if you want your child to grow up to be a surgeon.

While I did not like the post, I was delighted by the response to many of my friends and colleagues to it. Essentially, the theme was that the behavior described is not condoned in American surgery in this day and age, and that in most places it isn’t even tolerated. I felt buoyed by the fact that my in-person and on-line community is a place where we truly believe in goodness, and where we don’t buy into the now mostly historical legend of Surgeon Horriblis.

And yet…it seems like it’s a monthly event for us to have to go on the defensive about our profession and the fact that we really don’t eat our young, we don’t yell all of the time, and we don’t want to have peers who do those things. Someone somewhere is publishing something about what terrible people surgeons are and those of us who are the opposite of terrible have to stop, step in and say, “No. That’s not who I am, and that’s not who my people are.”

I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of people meanly accusing us of being mean. If we hit back, they get to say, “See!  You’re mean and terrible!” or alternatively, “Okay, maybe it’s not all surgeons, just most of the ones I have encountered.”  If we stay silent, people assume they are speaking truth and we’re complicit in propagating the terrible PR for our surgical family.  What’s a nice surgeon to do?

Well, for one, we keep being nice.  We kill them with kindness. We keep telling them that’s not our experience, and that we know plenty of folks who are amazing role models. I often tell people that while I started medical school with the idea that surgeons were scary, I fortunately had several surgeons successfully convince me otherwise during my 3rd year.  Were it not for the goodness and the humanity of Sam Snyder and Danny Custer at Scott & White, I openly admit I would likely be a pediatric intensivist today. Fortunately I was open to having my view changed- and change it they did.  I still have infinite respect for these two men and I’m grateful that they showed me that someone can be an excellent surgeon and an excellent human.  I know I don’t get it right every moment of every day, but I try pretty hard on both fronts.

In my professional role in our Department, I’m perpetually focused on bringing myself and those around me to a higher level of effectiveness through successfully communicating and building teams (and yes, that means playing nicely in the sandbox with others). So, surgeon friends, perhaps we need a new social media hashtag so that we can talk about #surghumanity? Much like a few months ago when I wanted to catch Millennials doing great things (which is only hard because it happens all of the time), maybe we need to make show the world surgeons being…human beings.  Because we are, and quite frankly I’m exhausted by all of this nonsense telling me that my people are insufferable.  I’m not, and neither is my surgical community.

6 thoughts on “Meanness about surgeons

  1. Some of the finest docs I know. Such commitment to their patients. I have tremendous gratitude for surgeons.

    1. Mo, thank you for this- and thank you for being you and doing all of the amazing things you do!

  2. As the Executive Director of the Arizona Chapter, American College of Surgeons, I have your back! I work with THE. NICEST. PEOPLE. on the planet. I have very rarely encountered a member that was an ass and they usually don’t stick around very long.

    Thank you! I’m sharing your post on Facebook with my members.

    1. Joni, thanks so much. I know many of the Arizona surgeons, and you do have some absolutely fabulous folks there!

  3. I had the distinct pleasure to spend the day with a trauma surgeon Saturday at a Medical conference and I can wholeheartedly say it was a privilege. I was reminded of the best qualities of the surgical profession. A product of all that is the finest here in New England and in Oklahoma, that surgeon now gives part of his midcareer time selflessly to the US Army Reserve -most recently deployed to Afghanistan.
    As one who grew up marveling at the preternatural discipline, and calm speed of my own father’s suturing technique (in his veterinary surgical practice) I too am amazed at those who sacrifice so much. All to put their hands in an abdomen or other cavity when required. It is often thankless work and requires great endurance. Thanks to those who serve so… and for the great article Dr..