recently i had two experiences which once again reminded me that the public and medical people have contrasting views of what a general surgeon is. most readers of medical blogs would at least have some idea of what it takes to become a general surgeon, but joe public out there does not.
in the first post in sid schwab's series on deconstructing an operation, he mentions a light hearted exchange in the scrub room between an orthopaedic surgeon and a general surgeon where the ortho refers to the general surgeon as a real surgeon. in many senses this is true, not to detract at all from the other surgical specialities. but at least in my neck of the woods, when your chips are down and your life hangs in the balance, it will be a general surgeon trying to save you (severe head trauma is the exception and in some places if there is a thoracic surgeon he may be there for chest trauma). being a general surgeon means less sleep than all the rest of our surgical colleagues, but also a certain level of respect, usually expressed in;
"rather you than me dude!" then there is laughter. but they are grateful for the frontline guys.
but the public (where i am at least) has no idea.
recently i have been meeting people outside of the workplace. they usually ask me what i do.
"i'm a general surgeon." i reply.
"oh! that's nice" they respond "are you thinking about specialising some day?"
"no." i say and smile.
but the last encounter was slightly more interesting. i was with a friend whose wife is a doctor, so he was more informed. he introduced me to someone.
"what do you do?"
"i'm a general surgeon."
"oh. that's nice. are you thinking about specialising some day?"
"no." and i smiled.
but then my friend started looking uncomfortable. he felt, it seems that some impression of what a general surgeon is should be left with the fellow. he took the conversation further.
"well, it does take a lot of study and work to become a general surgeon, doesn't it." i thought, seeing as he had gone to the trouble of trying to defend my honour, i'd better continue his line of thought and not leave him in the lurch.
"yes it does," i said "in my case i essentially studied for 15 years." i could see the guy's expression. he clearly couldn't compute this. after all i was just a general surgeon, probably not even a real doctor. his answer was according to his understanding and assumptions.
"yes it is good to keep abreast of latest developments." he assumed i was not speaking about real study but just about the occasional perusing of a surgical journal or two. i decided to mess with his understanding and assumption.
"not me," i replied, "i'll never study again. in fact if someone presents with a new disease, they must die."
i thought it was funny. he did not.