For many of us, being a surgeon invokes a sense of pride. Our profession demands the most from us—a mastery of surgical knowledge and technique, countless hours in the hospital, and the responsibility of caring for patients with grave illnesses. The surgical tradition calls for us to perform all of these tasks exceptionally well, and we honor this tradition by striving to achieve our personal best. What is less celebrated, but no less powerful, is the toll these duties take on the surgeon.
The theme for this year’s Resident and Associate Society of the American College of Surgeons (RAS-ACS) Communications Committee essay contest is Be True to The Profession; Be True to Yourself. We asked RAS-ACS members to share experiences where the conviction to live up to the idea of what it means to be a surgeon placed them at odds with their own personal beliefs.
Our winning essay, written by Robert A. Swendiman, MD, MPP, juxtaposes his agonizing experience of the most profound kind of personal loss with the gravitas with which he views his surgical training. Many of us will be able to relate to the seemingly irrational psychology that emerges when we are asked to pit personal against professional obligations. He poignantly demonstrates that as surgeons, we are masters of our craft, but we are also humans. In a time when awareness of physician wellness and burnout is increasing, Dr. Swendiman reminds us that it is okay to be true to ourselves.