So You Want To Be A Surgeon? Here Are 10 Tips To Help You.

My interns started the term with mixed career aspirations. One wanted to do interventional radiology, the other, “not sure.” Now, in their last few weeks of our term, they’re thinking about a surgical career. Which I think is great. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great advice over the years, and I’ve nutted a few things out myself along the way. So what have I learnt along the way?


The following is taken from an article written by Dr. Nikki Stamp. Read the whole article here.

About: Dr Nikki Stamp is a cardiothoracic surgeon based in Sydney, Australia who blogs at Advice for and from the heart. She is a graduate of the University of Western Australia and has completed training in cardiothoracic surgery with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Nikki wants to share with people an approach to health and well being that is backed up by science and good quality evidence. She has a particular interest in all things related to heart health and in particular, women’s heart health.

1. Be enthusiastic but not obnoxious. If you really want to be a surgeon, come to theatre. Follow your registrar when they’re on call and see patients in the emergency department. Ask to scrub. Learn to suture, learn to hand tie. But be respectful. This is people’s workplace, and that is a real patient. Be polite and learn to take no as an answer. By being enthusiastic and keen, you get known by bosses and other people who will then be more likely to support you. Plus you will learn so much! Most importantly, you will learn how surgery and you go together.

2. Surgery is seriously hard work. The days are long, you can go a whole day without eating or going to the bathroom. Emergencies happen in the middle of the night. Your patience will be tested by any number of people or processes. The process of skill acquisition can be hard and frustrating. The stakes are very high. I never really appreciated how hard this job could be until I was in the thick of it. Sometimes I have been so tired, I just want to cry. Or quit. I get through the hard times by trying to maintain some work-life balance

3. Not wanting to do it is also OK. If you change your mind, it’s cool. We work for 30-odd years in our chosen careers. Do you want to be unhappy for 30 years? Probably not. Do something you really want to do, and that suits you in all facets. Suits your lifestyle, your skills, your passion.

4. Publish, publish, publish. Surgical training is highly competitive and is becoming more so. More and more medical graduates are coming through and are competing for similar numbers of training spots. You need to stand out. Get great references (see point 1) and great experience. Increasingly though, I’m seeing people publish a lot of material. It can be case reports or full blown research. Ask consultants and registrars you work with if they have anything you can write up and publish.

5. Have a locker and have some stuff in it. My locker contains lots of funny scrub hats, toothbrush and toothpaste, change of underwear (for long nights), shampoo, mascara, lip balm, make-up remover and emergency food (brown rice and soups). It helps me look like a human rather than the girl from The Ring after pulling an all-nighter. I hope it makes me smell a little less like I’ve been up all night.

6. Get a mentor. I have several mentors. Some have been there at different stages of my career; some have stuck with me. Some aren’t even doctors! I’m sure I’ll collect a few more along the way. These people have been sounding boards, advocates, advisors, teachers, drinking partners and friends. People who aren’t your mentors also have things to teach you — what to do, even what not to do. Listen to lots of advice and opinion and formulate your own take based on all of your information.

7. Be yourself. I’m not your usual cardiac surgeon. I read Vogue and wear high heels. I giggle, and I’m pretty cheeky. But I think that probably helped me stand out a little amongst the crowd. And I wasn’t about to compromise who I was at heart. But most importantly, don’t think because you don’t fit a mold — whether it be gender, race, height, choice of extra-curricular reading materials – that you can’t do this. Diversity is important. Different people bring different skills sets and interests and create tolerance and understanding in workplaces.

8. Learn about management, leadership and teamwork. A big part of being a doctor is to be a leader or part of a team. Not everyone is naturally gifted at this. But being rotten at it can seriously limit your career aspirations. Hospitals and surgery, in particular, are basically big teams. We’re working towards the same goal in different but cohesive ways. When the team does not work, it’s not great for the outcome we’re trying to achieve. Look up to people who manage well and fairly. Learn from them.

9. The rules of surgery are finite. I was told these by a pediatric surgeon when I was a medical student. Eat when you can, go home when you can and don’t **** with the pancreas. So true. Especially the bit about the pancreas. This advice keeps you alive and upright.

10. Learn mindfulness. This is by no way compulsory but a seriously useful tool. Mindfulness is a form of meditation that does not always involve you sitting down and chanting. Mindfulness is a technique of keeping focus on one thing at a time. Such as watching Keeping up with the Kardashians and not checking Facebook at the same time. I took up mindfulness as a way of managing anxiety and also improving my ability to concentrate on one task at a time. It made me so much more relaxed but has had added benefits in the operating theatre, keeping my focus laser-like.

These rules are by no means exhaustive and nor are they compulsory. These are some of the slightly random or seriously helpful things I’ve picked up during my career. I’m sure if you ask one hundred surgeons for their ten tips, you will get a huge variation in what is actually important. I hope these help you in some way.