View Full Version : Lifestyles of Surgeons
10-08-2002, 12:19 PM
Can anyone tell me about the lifestyles of the different types of surgeons, specifically cardiothoracic, orthopedic, trauma, and general surgeons. I am considering surgery, but I have a fiance and soon we will be married with children. Any help or direction would be helpful.
10-08-2002, 04:44 PM
A fairly young, mid 30's, cardio. surgeon told me, "This lifestyle sucks." An ENT, 32 y/o, with 3 kids, loves his lifestyle and still has time to coach his son's soccer team. One of the ortho guys who specializes in spines has time to teach a judo class and compete in battle bot competitions. It seems a lot depends on your specialty and how busy you want to be.
10-08-2002, 05:02 PM
A lot depends on the specialty and how much emergent and/or trauma work is involved.
General surgeons probably rarely go through a call shift without having to go in (appy's, gallbladders, bowel obstructions...). So if you're sharing one in four call, which is probably typical, then every fourth night and weekend you can count on spending at the hospital. Plus we just work awfully danged hard in general - just in our nature, I think.
Trauma surgery is practically nothing but nights and weekends - that's when folks crack their cars up and shoot each other.
Ortho people get killed on trauma call - think of all the broken bones... If you're not in the trauma call pool, it's usually much easier.
What the hell in an ENT emergency? Damned if I know - so they have it pretty good typically. Often they get put into the trauma call pool covering facial injuries, and that can generate some hardship.
Same thing for Plastic surgeons. Private practice focusing on cosmetic stuff: easy. Trauma call for facial fractures and lacerations: ouch.
Regardless of the specialty, you have a significant amount of control in how you set up your practice after graduate. If you share call with a large group, or tailor your practice to elective cases and stay out of trauma and ER call pools, you're going to have it pretty easy.
10-08-2002, 05:56 PM
Not much to add here as I think others have generally summed up the pros and cons of each field you've asked about...except one. Bear in mind that with increasing non-operative management of Trauma, Trauma surgeons are often doing general surgery cases, or not operating much at all (not all penetrating trauma goes to the OR, or may go with other specialists [ie, Plastics, ENT, Urology, etc.], and a lot of blunt trauma is non-op, or is managed operatively by Ortho).
CT involves a lot of emergent CABGs and the like (and hence the bad hours), but if you ask me the field is narrowing at a rapid rate with the advent of stenting procedures, the encroachment of Cardiologists and Interventional Radiologists on their once massive realm.
10-08-2002, 06:54 PM
Not much to add either except that no matter which of those you go in, residency is still pretty darn time consuming and demanding. tjmDO, I don't know how old your kids are, etc. but you should think about the rigors of a surgical residency as well, especially given that you will be newly married.
10-08-2002, 07:20 PM
Everyone seems to have covered it well. By far the worst lifestyles are cardiothoracic and neurosurgery. Their lives usually suck and their patients are sick, sick. Calls all the time, trauma patients out the wazoo, and botched angioplasty/stent placement repairs. I guess that's why these guys get paid the big bucks (and they can have the big bucks for the crap they do, IMHO) I'm sure you could get into a nice private practice situation where the beating would be less though.
I think there are areas of general surgery that are very lifestyle conducive. Particularly colorectal surgery (i.e. no trauma, elective procedures, easy call nights), breast surgery (granted, very few general surgeons only want to do breast surgery but if the life is what you want... no call, office hours). Plastic surgery is also very nice if you do mostly cosmetics but you can get a little beat in a heavy academic trauma institution. Some people are going into endocrine surgery which is a nice lifestyle but you definitely have to supplement your practice with general surgery cases.
Ortho can be very nice if you are in a big group (less call) or do sports or total joints.
Stay away from Trauma. Entirely too unpredictable.
10-09-2002, 10:23 AM
Man you guys can really make a guy think twice about going into surgery. Are there any good things to surg. As for myself, I am only engaged. No kids. But within the near future, say a few yrs from now I will have a wife and more than likely kids. Right now my interests lie in emergency medicine, surgery, and perhaps family prac. The latter only because there is still a chance to do small surgical procedures and the like, a little diversity. Are the lifestyles of surgeons really that bad? I was told by someone that the life of a CT surg is not to bad based on being in a group. Does anyone know more about ortho? And how about just general ortho surg? Why does there have to be so many damn sub specialties, spine, trauma, joints, hand, foot and ankle?
10-09-2002, 03:20 PM
tjm, I've copied here from another thread I posted in.
It's true, being a surgeon is a life choice, not a job. It tends to swallow up a big chunk of who you are and what you do. There are folks who practice part time in a limited way, doing primarily breast surgery or outpatient procedures, like hernia repair, but that's unusual. I think that, to be a GOOD surgeon, you have to devote your life to it. Sort of like being a professional tennis player or golfer - it's just not possible to reach the level of expertise that you need unless you are living/breathing/pooping your pursuit. Certainly this is true during your training. You can count on 5+ years of being completely absorbed in your work, or you likely wouldn't survive. Most people who leave surgery during residency do so because of lifestyle issues.
The sacrifices that are demanded of surgeons really are so great that I don't think that the rewards are able to offset them, unless you are just pathologically, fanatically in love with doing surgery. At the end of a 36 hour shift, if the idea of taking a trauma GSW to the OR for exploration doesn't rally you to new levels of excitement, then you will be one the one-third of surgery residents who decide that it's all just not worth it. Being in the OR is the carrot on our stick. You either have that bizarre obsessive interest in it, or you don't. If you don't, I wouldn't put myself through the pain.
To be quite honest, I believe with all my heart that anyone initiating a conversation about his interest in surgery by questioning the lifestyle is just missing the whole point. It's like hearing someone say, "gee, I tried jogging and it was kind of fun, so I'm thinking of entering the Olympics as a marathon runner, but I'm not sure I'd like all that training. I mean, would I have to run a lot?"
I know this is sounding sarcastic and I don't really mean for it to. But, that's the impression I get.
Pursue surgery if it is your passion. Surgery is the most interesting career in the world, in my opinion, but it is a life?s work and not something to undertake without a great driving interest. If it's lifestyle you're after, there are lots of fields to choose from, but surgery probably shouldn't be one of them.
best of luck
10-09-2002, 10:14 PM
I am simply trying to find out the lifestyles and yet nobody has told me the lifestyle. Simply saying it is bad doesn't give much insight into the lifestyle. What is bad? Never being home, or being home most of the time? As for my choice, I am an MS-I and right now I am trying to educate myself on the life I plan to lead in the future. I will make my desicion based on what I love and want to do, but when you have a significant other who has sacrificed for you so that you can get to this point you must give some attention to their wants and needs. I realize that being a surgeon will require so much more than I can imagine. Thanks for all of the advise, but can you give me some info on the day-to-day life of the surgeons I have requested?
surg to me is a passion- a drive-- i want to open the body, return it to how it was meant to be, and close it with little sign that i was ever there. It is true that, for the most part-- and most of it falls on you as a person, that surgery is a lifestyle.
My dad is a colorectal surgeon. There are only three in all of salt lake city so his day is usually up by 5:30-6ish and to the hospital to round on his/one of the other's doc's patients. He does outpatient surg two days a week, in the OR two days a week and somehow finds time to see patients four days a week. (one outpatient surg day is only from 7ish to about 2-3pm and then he's seeing patients in the office) Then come the weekends!!! He is usually at the hospital by 8am to round until maybe 2-3ish and then hopefully he is off for the day, but he is always getting calls about what to do with a patient. He didn't make it to a lot of my "important" activities as a kid-- but the ones he DID make it to meant more to me than anything b/c i knew/appreciated what it took to make it there. For my dad, his life revolves around the OR-- BUT-- he chooses this lifestyle. i don't know one person on this planet that works harder than my dad, i'm sure you can thin out the load, but when there is work to be done you've got to do it.
10-10-2002, 01:24 AM
I understand that residency is very time-consuming (although the 80 hr/week that droliver described is pretty workable, I think). I'm curious about how much control gen surgeons have over their lives after that, though.
Can many afford scaling back, and pursuing other interests after a few years? Or does malpractice, and the need to stay current, prevent this sort of thing?
What if you want to work overseas? Can surgeons just bail once in awhile and do surgery in Tavarua?
I'm not sure that the typical American doctor is as one-dimensional as they used to be a few decades ago. I know I'm not. Is it impossible to be a surgeon and have other interests?
10-10-2002, 01:38 AM
I think it is very possible once you finish residency, but the thing is that you have to be proactive about what you want out of your career. That said, I think it would be a lot easier to steer in the direction you want if you are part of a group practice, as opposed to being a salaried HMO surgeon working for a hospital. The first few years after residency may still prove difficult even if you join a practice, as you become the new man and usually get the hours and procedures the more senior guys don't want. However, within a few years you'll get more and more coverage from the other members and can pursue other interests. This is not to say you can't pursue other interests the first year out of residency, just that you'll have a lot more time to do so if you wish as a few years go by in a group practice.
10-10-2002, 07:08 AM
If you want to be a surgeon, then any percieved "lifestyle" shouldn't scare you away.
What should scare you is how miserable you would be for the rest of your life if you DONT go into the field you love.
Imagine sitting around talking about a single EKG for an hour, or discussing a lab value for a whole morning report, or waiting all day for consults. Thats sounds pretty boring to me and I would rather pump gas than go into medicine. Likewise, If I went into medicine for the "lifestyle" I would go nuts and would probably be really miserable towards my family too. Having a normal family life is tough no matter what field you enter, so you might as well do something you like.
10-11-2002, 08:45 AM
Here is my two cents for the guy considering surgery. I totally understand your desire to find out about this stuff before third year - it really helps to have some direction - but people can tell you all they want about how you will work 80-120 hours per week but what really matters is how you feel working 80-120 hours/week.
I have found that some people take that kind of schedule in stride and manage make some quality time for a few hours on the weekend and feel good about it. Other people, like myself, forget to wash my hair, and feel like crap all the time. So, I would just work it out to do a surgical rotation early and do something that will give you a real taste of life in surgery.