The parties assembled. The room prepped. IV started. Chest scrubbed. Antibiotics given. His nervous eyes raised when he saw me before the procedure, relieved at the sight of at least one familiar face.
"Are you ready?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "I think so."
"Any last minute questions?"
"I don't think so," he said.
"Great! Then let's get this over with..." I turned to the lab staff and signaled them to proceed.
"Oh, doc! I forgot. Can I speak with you a second? Ya know, privately?"
"Sure," I said returning gurney-side. I drew the curtain.
He leaned forward and whispered: "Doc, no fellow, right?"
I stopped and contemplated the question, then acquiesced. "Would you mind if I use one as my scrub tech, but I'll be the primary operator?" I asked.
"Yeah, that would be okay - as long as you're the primary operator."
* * *
This little exchange got me thinking: what would I want? Honestly, I'd probably want an attending physician working on me, too. After all, it makes sense, right? Get the most experienced hands and all.
But there are good reasons to have a fellow involved with your surgery, if the opportunity presents itself:
- We need to keep training. None of us will be doctors forever, and now more than ever with tons of people entering the health care marketplace there is a need to have well-trained doctors in place to meet the need ahead. You can read all you want about how to do a procedure, but until you've done one yourself on a living, breathing individual, you have no concept of the complexities involved. Starting slow in a closely supervised, supportive setting, makes for some very technically-savvy doctors of tomorrow.
- They improve your surgical technique. The better I can teach someone to do what I do, it seems the easier it is for me to do it, too. Throughout our careers as doctors, we work hard to solidify our competency "brand" amongst our patients and peers. Particularly for specialists: screw up a case or two and your "brand" is quickly tarnished. This is especially important as we train fellows - none of us wants to tarnish our "brand" when trainees work with us either. Therefore, you better bet that bottom dollar we'll be supervising those fellows closely.
- Fellows keep you sharp. Oh sure, they often ask mundane questions but occasionally they ask remarkably astute questions, too. When this happens, they make us think and as a result, we all get smarter.
- They're another set of eyes and hands.It never hurts to have another set of eyes contribute their interpretation to a tough case nor an extra set of hands for that extra retractor. Ever.
- They slow you down. There is no question that teaching someone else takes more time than doing a procedure yourself. This definitely has its downside. But time spent now might pay large dividends in the future when that same doctor has to work on you someday. Also, spending a bit more time can have it's upsides - especially if you really don't want to have dinner with your mother-in-law.
- More often than not, fellows are extra-careful. By their very inexperience and their desire to excel in training, I have found most fellows I work with especially conscientious when they dealing with patient and their procedures.
It might just be the best thing you ever did.