How I Got Here

ByBrittany SingletonTuesday , 30 December 2014
How I Got Here

Tell us about how you became a surgeon?

I started out as a nurse and worked my way up to an Associate Charge Nurse at a busy Trauma/Burn Intensive Care Unit in Australia. I always wanted more information, more knowledge, an understanding of disease and anatomy. Medicine was the obvious choice. I moved to the USA because they were desperate for experienced ICU nurses and in exchange a greencard was offered. I packed my backpack and some books and set off.

It must have been tough to start over in a new country?

I began again – I went to night school (I had seen this on ER and knew that in America this was possible) while working full time. It did take me a couple of years and lots of exams, but finally I was able to start medical school.

Was it a career you knew you were destined to work in?

The first day, I fell in love with anatomy. The human body is an incredibly integrated machine. The choice to complete General Surgery residency was an easy one because I love fixing problems and surgery gives me an opportunity when people come in to fix them and make them feel better .                                                          

It must be tough dealing with trauma and emergency day in, day out…

Being a trauma surgeon is difficult most of the time, because these people were usually well an hour beforehand and then experienced a catastrophic event. Some of them a motor car accident, a fall, a shooting or a stabbing and then they need an emergency operation to fix them. It is a life and death situation and one that you have to be ready for all of the time.

It is a lot of study and dedication - have you ever had second thoughts about your career path?

The study is the easy part, it’s the on-going learning when you are working 80 hours a week that you have to find time for. You owe it to your patients to be the best surgeon you can be. Keeping up with new techniques, what works and what doesn’t work. I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world – it is such a privilege to be a surgeon and have patients trust you enough to put them to sleep and complete an operation on them. I gain strength from them everyday.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is not knowing what is going to happen on a daily basis. Walking through the doors of the hospital you have no idea what is going on in the ER or operating room. It’s the unexpected, within five minutes you may be in the operating room, trying to save a young person’s life.  For me seeing patients pull through and get better is the most rewarding part of my job.

What is the downside?

The downside is not being present for my family and friends. We work at least 80 hours a week and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for other things. 

The pressure must be enormous to hold a life in your hands. Do you ever suffer nerves? 

I don’t really get too stressed about what I have to do because I never know what that is going to be. It’s not just the patients that have to have confidence in you, but it’s all the staff.

How rewarding is it to save a life and see someone on the road to recovery?

It’s amazing, the human body is so resilient and people are truly incredible. People recover much quicker than I ever anticipate. The patients as I had mentioned before rarely remember you because they were in an extreme situation but the smile and warmth that the patients family have is truly rewarding. There is no better job in the world than seeing someone walk out of the hospital when you thought they may not have made it through the next 24hrs. 

You have spoken before about senseless trauma ie: shootings, domestic violence etc – does this get frustrating? 

Every person that arrives in our trauma room is treated the same. We just try to save their life, no matter what the cirumstances. It’s not our job to delineate right from wrong, that’s what we have courts for.  At the end of the day we are their to try to help save a life and that is what is important. 

It must be hard treating children?

The frustration is that anyone in America can have a gun so we see a lot of gun violence and most countries know we have had a run of copycat school shootings which is beyond belief. The children that are injured in any circumstance is something you never get over. It stays with you, you think about it, how unfair, why would that happen to a little kid? That is the hardest.

How do you switch off after a long day?

Sometimes I just walk out of the hospital shaking my head and not believing that all those things could have happened in 30hrs but after all these years you learn to leave it at the door because if you don’t you could never function in the capacity that trauma and intensive care patients need you too. You have to stay strong and live every moment to the fullest. I love being outside and I love going to Bikram yoga.

Does it ever effect you personally?

It affects me daily – it’s emotionally exhausting, but often I will stay and talk to the family after the medical rounds and answer their questions. I am empathetic and understanding, but have to have some distance or else I would never be functional for the day.  

Is there a motto you live by?

Live everyday, do the things in life you dream of, be the best you can be, don’t settle, don’t wait until tomorrow because it can be taken from you in a moment.

Sum yourself up in three words?

Driven, hardworking and reliable. 

Do you have someone who has been an incredible mentor?

I have had so many mentors in my medical career, but my greatest mentors are still my Mum and Dad. They taught me that being a women is not a reason not to dream big, that I could be anything, they never said I couldn’t do something. Since I was a little kid, they let me evolve into the woman I am today.  As my Dad has said to me many times: ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’  and I often think about that. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the medical industry?

Define your goals and pick a job that will be fulfilling and stimulating. Everyone needs some purpose in his or her lives; it just makes your life happier. It doesn’t have to be a job, but being passionate about something is important as humans. 

What has been one of your most memorable moments?

Making the decision to save lives. I never dreamed of being a surgeon, I have to pinch myself sometimes.  

Lessons Learned

1. My advice is to find someone you admire and have the things in life you aspire too and ask them to mentor you. It’s surprising how valuable that is.

2. Learn to leave it at the door because if you don’t you could never function in the capacity that trauma and intensive care patients need you too.

3. Learn to make the most of every moment in your life because it could be taken away in a second.

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