At this point in my professional career, I am not as interested in performing surgery as the primary surgeon as I am in teaching surgery to trainees. I like nothing better than to ask questions when staffing a resident surgery, challenging the resident surgeon to consider “what ifs,” “what is the pathophysiology and anatomy of this condition,” or drawing diagrams and illustrations on the sterile sheets that I think will help explain how to perform a certain step in the surgery; I am a very visual surgeon. I have always enjoyed surgery as a “group effort,” and my own enjoyment comes from stimulating and encouraging the resident surgeon. If I can impart a few teaching points as I staff a surgery, then I feel relevant and helpful. But, while I do enjoy assisting a resident surgeon, I would not staff a procedure that I did not feel I could personally complete successfully and safely should the need arise. I am more likely now to not select very complicated surgical cases that I feel would be more appropriate for a younger faculty colleague to add to her/his surgical experience. I have “been there, done that” sufficiently that I am very happy to give them the experiences I have already collected. Also, they are very good surgeons and the patient will be in excellent hands!
The Joy of Medicine and Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery
I have studied the recent phenomenon of “physician burnout” and contemplated how I have successfully avoided this condition. It is important to acknowledge that I firmly believe I was “called” into the practice of medicine at a young age, and have never, ever regretted my path. For me, faith and the profession of medicine are inextricably linked in a sense of social responsibility to others, and with an obligation to care for sick patients for as long as I can do so safely and with adequate knowledge.
I often teach that only medicine and religion deal with the hard realities of death and dying, particularly with respect to helping individuals and their families face serious health challenges. Having studied both religious ethics and secular ethics, with an emphasis on bioethics, I have come to realize that physicians are stewards of the human body, including the mind and emotions, and that is a tremendous responsibility that requires humility, honesty, respect for persons, compassion, and ethical behavior.
I have personally had outstanding role models for these professional qualities over the course of my career, and I feel a strong sense of obligation to “pay it forward” to others. We each must honestly acknowledge that we did not succeed in our careers on our own, but through the efforts of many well-meaning mentors and role-models who shaped our professional capabilities. Paying it forward also means stimulating medical students to seek the proper specialty that fits their own personality and capabilities, whether or not it will be otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
The Practice of Medicine is Enriched by Outside Interests
I have been favored over the course of my career with a great number of colleagues, mentors, trainees, medical students, and especially patients who have informed and shaped who I am as a physician. This informed journey for me started in elementary school and continues to date. And, I have been especially blessed with a loving, supportive spouse, who is also a physician, and who shares my philosophy about how special is our profession. We were married while we were in medical school, and because of time and finances, waited for eight years to start our family—our first child was born while we were on active military duty and cost us $5.76 for the delivery! I acknowledge that all medical marriages/families face many challenges, and it was no different for us as we began our medical careers in earnest, and now three children and eight grandchildren later, it still remains a challenge, albeit much easier.