The life of a surgeon is not an easy one. The road to get there is…somewhat daunting. However, it is possible to get there. It just takes a whole lot of character and an unbending passion for what one does.

And I think this was the point of Prof Smith’s lecture.

On Monday the 31st of July, Professor Smith came to talk to us about “How to Specialise”. In all honesty, most were probably expecting this particular lecture to provide a more practical and systematic guideline – don’t worry, that will be provided for you all sometime – but, this was not exactly the case. The advice he offered was not so much a to-do list, but rather a look into what it takes – both mentally and physically – to reach the goal of becoming a surgeon.
Prof Smith first and foremost highlighted the importance of empathy when it came to training. He observed that a significant number of doctors have embraced a form of disconnect when it comes to their patients. Likewise, he also worried about the poor bedside manner that has become common place and, instead, encouraged us to not only maintain both an understanding and compassion for our future patients, but prioritise them above most things as “medicine is about giving…it’s who we are”.

Furthermore, this disconnect can also be linked with the professor’s second piece of advice which centred around Responsibility. The patient is the surgeon’s responsibility. In fact, from the time that the patient is on the table he/she has to be the centre of the surgeon’s world. But things sometimes do go wrong. And this is a reality that is not so easy to face. However, Prof Smith reminded us that instead of running from this reality we should face it – own up to it, even – rather than find somewhere else to place the blame. I suppose a way to do that would be to follow the prof’s advice to both maintain an awareness of the patient’s humanity and stand by one’s own integrity.

Finally, the last little nugget of wisdom shared with us required us to, in essence, dig deep within ourselves as students: we were urged to take control of our own learning. Prof Smith not only insisted we be “open” to everything and pay attention to detail, but to also find the opportunity to grow as a surgeon and as a doctor in every situation. For, one isn’t born a surgeon; It’s a learned skillset – alongside those of communication and leadership. We get to decide what kind of doctors we want to be. After all,
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ursula K. Le Guin