James B. Peoples, M.D., Surgical Society
Ask a Surgeon
In 2013, we asked our adviser, Dr. Kim Hendershot, questions about being a surgeon. Her responses are below.
What is a typical day like for you?
One of the interesting things about being a trauma surgeon is that one day is never like the next. So a typical day is not so typical. I do have scheduled office days to see patients, but it sometimes gets interrupted by traumas or emergencies if I am on call. One office day, right before the start of my office hours, a gunshot wound victim came in. He had been shot a number of times, including several wounds to his heart and we had to open his chest in the trauma bay in the ED and once we revived him then we rushed him up to the OR and tried to repair all the holes in his heart. Unfortunately he died later in the ICU but we did all we could to save him. Needless to say, my office had to call all my patients to re-schedule their office visit for that day.
What is a typical week like for you?
Being in academic surgery, we have a fair amount of educational conferences that we schedule for the residents and students, so that is the main “structure” to my week. We have M&M conference, where we discuss those patients who died or had complications. We also have some more interactive conferences—we have a procedure lab for the trauma team, which is where we practice procedures like chest tubes, cricothyroidotomies, resuscitative thoracotomies, all on cadavers.
Besides conferences, I am typically on call at least once or sometimes twice a week. I share rounding responsibilities with my group, so I can expect to be the team “rounder” typically two weeks, sometimes three, out of the month. I also try to find time during my week to work on my ongoing research projects and other academic pursuits, like teaching/mentoring the medical students or residents.
What is your favorite part about surgery?
I definitely love the operating room. Using my hands and my brain is the reason that I went into surgery in the first place.
What is the most challenging aspect of surgery for you?
One of the best parts of trauma surgery is the fact that you never have the same day twice. That can also be one of the most challenging things about trauma surgery too. There’s lots of chaos and multi-tasking that goes into being a trauma surgeon, but I like to take the chaos of a trauma and try to organize it based on all the things I’ve learned over the years. Being a trauma surgeon is sometimes hectic and stressful but bringing someone back from the brink of death is a great feeling. Even though we can’t save everyone, it’s also good to know that we’ve tried everything within our power to do so.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am married and really enjoy spending time with my husband. We like to watch movies and TV (Big Bang Theory is his current favorite and he’s got me hooked on it too). We also like to go to sporting events—I’m a big Buckeye fan (born and raised) and we go to a lot of the games, even though he is a die-hard SEC fan (Auburn grad). We also have a dog, which I spoil with lots of love and attention-she’s a mutt and has a great, sunny disposition and makes me smile with her greeting when I come home every day.
What advice do you have for medical students interested in surgery?
Surgery is a big time and life commitment, so you definitely want to be sure you love it. If interested, then try to talk to as many surgeons as possible and try to do some shadowing to really see what it’s like. If you’re truly interested, then go for it. I had many people (mostly non-medical) tell me that I was crazy to go into surgery because of the lifestyle. I think the lifestyle of any specialty is what you make of it. You can go into an “easy” specialty and still not see your family if you don’t make the time; you can be a busy and successful “hard” specialist and have a nice family life if you make it a priority. So don’t be afraid of the lifestyle component—it’s difficult to control as a resident but is much easier to control your time as an attending.