My Surgery Rotation Experience

Eight long, demanding,  yet rewarding weeks later and I’m done with my surgery rotation. 

It was a roller coaster but I really learned a lot along the way. 

1. You’ll see things you never thought you would- I’m talking sliced off pinky fingers , a man’s body riddled with 18 bullet holes, flesh eating bacteria, a man’s guts sticking out from a stab wound, an awake and alert 18 year old with a bullet lodged in his scalp centimeters from penetrating his skull. To be fair, I spent most of my time on the trauma surgery team, but still it’s amazing the things you see on your surgery rotation. You’re no longer in your cushy, air conditioned study spot flipping through pages and scrolling on your tablet. You’re in the emergency room, wiping off blood, lifting and rolling patients, taking histories, and sometimes sewing up lacerations. The change of pace was intimidating at first, I’ll admit, but soon you get used to how quickly things move and you learn to anticipate what’s next.

2. Surgeons save lives- Duh, you knew this, but I’m saying this for the people in the back! I can’t tell you how many lives were saved. Surgery is known to be a demanding specialty, and rightfully so! You have to know the body in so much detail and learn how to think on your feet. One of the longest surgeries I watched was of the aforementioned case where a man was brought into the emergency department with 18 gunshot wounds to his chest, abdomen, arms, legs AND a broken tibia. I didn’t think he’d live, but due to the amazing work of the surgeon, the patient was stabilized.  I watched the surgeon as she (yeah SHE…most of the surgery team consisted of African American women) retrieved bullet after bullet and repaired the patient's bowel, liver, and kidneys. So much knowledge and skill are needed to perform surgeries. It's unreal.

3.  You have to learn how to deal with different personalities- Some people are just amazing. Some people just suck. But no matter what personalities you encounter, keep a level head. Med students are basically at the bottom of the totem pole in the hospital, so some residents /physicians may talk to us crazy. But at the end of the day you don’t have to lower yourself to match anyone’s bitterness. I was thoroughly impressed by my ability to brush things off. I didn’t let anyone intimidate me, but I also didn’t waste my precious energy going back and forth with problematic people.   

(Disclaimer: If you’re being verbally or physically abused report it. This is your education. You’ve paid to be here, and you deserve to learn in a healthy environment.)

4. Team work makes the dream work.  All members of the team are important, and make everything run smoothly. When everyone does their part, the whole team benefits. When people are lazy or pass off their work to others, things take longer.  You’ll do a lot of team work on your rotations, so make sure that you become an asset to your team not a hindrance. Do your part, and don’t be afraid to cover for a team mate when they really need it. Odds are you’ll need them to return the favor in the future

5. Patients can do the most. You put on your white coat on day 1 of rotations, look in the mirror and think, “Let’s go save lives.” Fast forward 2 hours and a patient is cursing you out and swinging at you.  Now, that’s an extreme case of course. And again since I worked on the trauma team most of my rotation, things were a little more spicy than on other teams. Still, you will encounter just as many difficult patients as you do cooperative patients. You’ll know early on, so just plan accordingly.  Always be aware of the situation at hand. If a patient is being difficult, don’t be afraid to call security.

We had combative patient with a stab wound try and swing at our team while we were trying to rush him to the operating room ( his bowel was sticking out of the stab wound). Needless to say I excused my self from the room, clip board in hand looking like:

I’m not writing any of this to scare anyone, but rather to give a glimpse into a day in the life on trauma surgery.

At the end of the day, however, it is a privilege to be on the other side of the hospital bed serving people. No matter how belligerent or pleasant a patient is, many  of them would, if given the choice, trade places with you in a heart beat.

Never forget that. And never lose your humanity. Serving people is a privilege.

Judy Oranika