Surgeons get a bad rap for being insensitive and un-empathetic. From the outside, they are seen as the engineers of medicine – socially awkward, mechanical in their interactions, and having no time for patient engagement.
This has totally NOT been my experience. I’ve see a couple of breast surgeons, a couple for breast surgeon fellows, a plastics resident, and a plastic surgeon. In my experience, the surgeons have been highly empathetic and have spent a large amount of time educating me on my surgical options.
What has been interesting is that this seems to be part of the learning process. Those who are most empathetic are the attending surgeons. The residents are still learning, so their interactions can feel a little mechanical – they are still trying to figure out the best ways to make connections with patients, but also the best ways to describe things. By the time they are fellows, you see a higher level of confidence in their ability to provide patient education – and you start to see more customization to your specific case. The surgeons themselves seem to be the best at tailoring their discussions to your specific situation.
One of the best bits of early advice I received was to ‘decide who you wish to trust’ in your treatment. In the first couple weeks after diagnosis, I had decide where I was going to get treatment. I based this, in part, on where I felt comfortable – but also who provided me with the most options. I really liked being in a teaching setting, and having access to more specialists – but that was balanced with knowing that I would spend more time in waiting rooms and receive less fancy care (e.g. the infusion treatment center doesn’t provide lunch).
After a couple of appointments with my breast surgeon, I decide she is someone I wish to trust. After my first visit with my plastic surgeon (she spent over an hour talking to us), I decide she was someone that I trust. Having made the decision to trust them, allows me to filter through all the additional information and advice that I receive. It allows me to be OK with the decisions I’m making, and allows me to be confident and a lot more comfortable with the idea of my upcoming surgery.
I just felt it necessary to say, that society gives surgeons a bad wrap – at least from my experience – the breast oncology and breast plastic surgeons have been pretty awesome so far!