Throwback Thursday: Dr. Santosh Prabhu

Interview by: Saachi Kurudi

Design by: Yatee Samantaray, Bhavya Jain

Website by: Saanya Chhabra

How do you manage the emotional stress associated with operating on such young patients?

To be honest after more than 15 years in this field I still haven’t figured that out. It is impossible not to get emotionally involved with the little ones, especially the ones that are suffering. I still find it difficult to sleep at night if there is a child in pain or distress in the ward, be it pre or post op. You are invariably drawn into & become a part of the family, their anxieties & worries, at least while the child is in the hospital. And while it is gratifying when the child does well & goes home, the rare ones who do not make it haunt me. The short answer is I have not been able to manage the emotional stress well & I know a few colleagues in this field who are in the same boat.

If you could meet your MBBS self, what piece of advice would you give him?

I think I took the course too seriously back then. It was all about classes, labs , wards, getting from one to the other. And it was long before mobile phones, screens & netflix. I would advice my younger self & those doing the course now, please explore the city/ town where you are studying, the local culture, language, food, people & explore life in general, within safe limits of course. Do the same wherever you do your PG. Develop hobbies and interests outside medicine.

Do you remember your first solo surgery? What was it like?

I did my direct DNB Paediatric Surgery (5yrs) after MBBS. My first solo surgery was a circumcision a couple months after I had joined the course. I do not remember much other being happy & smiling a lot afterwards. I do vividly remember my first laparotomy with my junior PG, a couple of years into the course. It was a splenectomy. I remember being thrilled when my teacher told me the previous day that I would be doing the surgery. Was also a bit nervous knowing he would be there critically assessing me. It went well and I was so happy. It was my birthday too that day & I think he knew it! I had to give a dept party when the child got discharged.
I have to say I have been blessed with great teachers & wonderful colleagues and residents throughout my career.

What according to you is the most rewarding aspect of being a paediatric surgeon and how does it drive your practice?

Probably the most rewarding aspect is knowing you have positively impacted a child’s well being, a child who now has has an entire lifetime ahead of him/her. There are a lot of intangibles in this field. The person most affected by the child’s illness is always the mother. She is the one who undergoes the most stress yet sacrifices everything for her child. The smile on her face when she is told that her prized possession is well & fit to be discharged is the best reward & a driving force. Occasionally you will have parents coming & telling you they have named the baby after you. I have teenagers, operated several years back, calling to seek career choice advice. Paediatric Surgery as a field is for those who are passionate about kids, surgery & these intangibles.

What do you think is one invention or discovery that has transformed the field of Paediatric Surgery?

Paediatric Surgeons are general surgeons in the true sense of the word in that we deal with a myriad of conditions & anomalies from head to foot, encompassing almost all systems. Whilst there have been inventions/ discoveries in specific illnesses that have significantly altered the management/outcomes in those conditions, it is difficult to pinpoint one intervention that has transformed the entire field of paediatric surgery. There have been several over the years like widespread acceptance and practice of minimal access surgery, advances in endosurgery, advances in neonatal perioperative care, advances in haematoncology, organ transplant etc.
On a daily basis it is the developments in paediatric anaesthesia – both GA & regional which has made the child’s perioperative period and the surgeon’s life much easier. In the last decade I have seen more & more young anaesthetists handling kids with confidence & wanting to do paediatric anesthesia. It is a big confidence booster for a paediatric surgeon practicing anywhere to have a confident anaesthetist at the head end. And here we have been blessed with a wonderful team of anaesthetists who have played a big part in our successful outcomes.

What are some concerns or setbacks that you think the Medical Community faces today?

There are a lot of challenges before us. There are a couple which bother me the most. One is the increase in violence at the workplace against healthcare professionals in recent years. The other is increasing fatalities among younger people within medical community, both stress related & neglect of ones own well being. I have lost a fellow PG, several years my junior, in his thirties. It is also distressing to hear about drastic measures taken by young doctors, particularly PGs, in response to workplace stress & difficult working conditions. We need to look out for each other & help out whenever any signs of mental health issues like depression are seen in our fellow members of the community, be it colleagues or students.