In general, the surgery clerkship is a pretty intense experience for most students. We work in a fairly complicated system with other students, with patients, with nurses, with doctors and other allied health professionals. We get up pretty early. We go to bed pretty late. We study pretty hard. We’re on call. We may feel tired and lost at times. We care for sick people and in some cases we care for very sick people indeed. We see ourselves and everyone else we work with doing our best under what can be difficult conditions sometimes. We put our hands on the body and inside the body and see disease. We see surgeons having big successes, and big defeats. We see people heal and recover. We see trauma, complications, cancer, and death. At the end of the day we see people who are looking after people, and we discover more about what it means to become a doctor, and what it means to be a surgeon.
It’s important not to lose sight of the larger goal. About what the clerkship is for, and about what we are really supposed to get out of it. We have to pass our exam at the end, but what are we really taking away? I think the big goals are gaining an understanding of what it’s like to be a patient who’s having surgery. What patients go through. What complications are like. What post-operative pain is like and how do you manage those things. We should know what it’s like to be a surgeon. What it’s like to practice as a surgeon. What it’s like to live as a surgeon. We should know what the operating room is like. We should know what it’s like to have a patient put their life in our hands, under anesthetic. We should see some blood. We should know what sort of thing surgery is good for, and what sort of things it’s no good for. We should know when to call for a surgeon.