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Mr Tim Havard is the Director (Wales) of the Royal College of Surgeons
I often wonder why I chose surgery as a career. I don’t really buy that’s its genetic, although both my father and uncle were general surgeons, so I didn’t lack for inspiration or insight. However, neither pushed me into it and neither romanticised the realities or challenges they faced in their jobs.
It could well be stubbornness. As a feckless, drifting sixth former in Radyr Comprehensive, my resolve was galvanized by the careers advisor who dismissed my plans for a career in medicine as unrealistic (although my projected grades were somewhat underwhelming!). The rest was an evolution.
Having wriggled through my undergraduate degree in Cardiff Medical School, I was unsure what to do next. A turning point came whilst working as a Senior House Officer for the esteemed General Surgeon Mr Brian Rees. The registrar at the time made an unplanned exit, leaving me to step up and rapidly introducing me to the deep-end. Brian’s support and inspirational enthusiasm for the job had me hooked, and the dye was cast.
Becoming a surgeon will always, quite rightly, be tough. You have to combine gaining basic knowledge and passing the requisite exams, with learning the technical aspects of performing complex surgery. In retrospect, I’m amazed I had the stamina to complete my training!
In my view, one big difference between surgery and other aspects of medicine is that you have the operation as the clearly identifiable point at which you have contributed to the care of a patient.
During a career, a surgeon will have to cope with a range of feedback, hopefully the majority is positive, but occasionally it will be negative when outcomes are not optimal. Frequently this will focus heavily on the operation and whether this has been a success or not. On these occasions, a degree of toughness is required to remain balanced and self-critical without losing self-confidence.
A welcome recent change in surgical practice has been the increase in teamwork and collaborative working between senior surgeons. It potentially offers support in a situation where patient expectation continues to increase and there is greater scrutiny of practice that has quite rightly become the norm.
For me, being a surgeon combines the challenge, satisfaction and the undoubted excitement and ‘buzz’ of operating, with all the other facets of medical practice in other specialties. Including, interacting with patients, communicating details about their condition and the procedure you recommend, teamwork, training and research.
And even now, after the best part of 30 years working as a surgeon, nothing surpasses the satisfaction of watching a patient you have helped make a full recovery and to get on with their lives. Fundamentally, that is why I love it.
Feeling inspired? Find out more about a career in surgery.
Tim’s blog was provided by the Royal College of Surgeons and forms part of BMA Cymru Wales’s widening access project, demystifying the myths around medicine. Find out more at www.bma.org.uk/becomingadoctor
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