I am often asked, “When should a surgeon know it is time to retire?” I believe this is based on many factors—cognitive function, physical conditioning, manual dexterity, judgment, self-awareness, continued altruism, and the strength of love for medicine. Senior surgeons who can maintain the reliability of the above factors have a great deal to offer the patient, the profession, and medical education. Keeping the body healthy and capable is a fundamental requirement for a surgeon—so I am all about exercise, and always have been. Learning for a surgeon is indeed a life-long affair, and while head and neck anatomy does not change much, everything else about otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, as well as medicine in general, is in a constant state of renewal and discovery. The brain must be stimulated, and I have found over the years that working with medical students and resident physicians generates a keen sense of stimulation for my knowledge acquisition.
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.