Not your stereotypical surgeons

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!

  • Becky

One Comment

  • Agree generally about surgeons. Even though my cardiac surgery was at a university hospital the model presented to the students was pretty bad. One surgeon, on my first heart incident was dragged out my room for coming in the night (around midnight) before my surgery to remind that most people in as bad a shape as me died in surgery. Since I was diagnosed at 20%- survival the term “chronic” didn’t count, nor did the bed-side manners. Second time I was already gone before surgery even started so no opinion beyond I;m damn glad to be alive!

    The cancer clinic is run differently. Survival rates are very high and the system responds to that reality. My colon cancer treatments are pretty light and are based on the statistical possibility that more than the lymph nodes removed along with tumor are also carry some cancer cells. The people who diagnosed me, operated on me and provided after care were all wonderful. My surgeon thought I was an “interesting case” and requested I see her regularly for all further needs. Even the guy who did my colonoscopy has called to how I’m doing.

    The current difficulties I’m having with chemo is I carry baggage from bad heart pre-care experiences and have expressed them too openly. I’ve lost their trust and I’m trying to rebuild mine in them. It bothers me that we don’t get along but I have back-up from my surgeon, family doctor and a counselor Ive worked with before so the chemo is the chemo and care / trust is somewhere else.

    Oddly, I think it’s my training in what to expect from doctors (not much) learned from other experiences that makes my “bedside manner” rather bad. Thanks for this reminder only parts of this cancer thing aren’t working–I now have the smiling face of my cancer surgeon and all her crazy crew in my mind–not Mr Grumpy Oncologist:-)

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