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Book Review: The Real Life of a Surgeon

Friday, October 4, 2019  
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Book Review: The Real Life of a Surgeon by Arthur W. Perry, MD, FACS

The Real Life of a Surgeon is a selection of anecdotal stories written by 23 different surgeons. I chose to review this book due to its rich variety of stories. Ranging from bariatric surgeons to army doctors and rural doctors, the authors of these stories provide a window into surgeons' experiences, including emotional challenges and ethical dilemmas. Surgeons from varying disciplines and backgrounds have contributed chapters to create a resource for aspiring surgeons. I have learned about rare diseases, new techniques, and the intellect required for tough decisions.

Dr. Susan Love, a breast surgeon from America, highlights the three surgical sins in the second chapter. One, "losing track of the fact that these are not disembodied organs but real people;" two, "believing that we always know what is best for another person;" and three, "becoming disengaged after decades of practice." Dr. Love demonstrates how important one's empathy and emotional availability is for a patient, and how these three principles maintain her excellence in the field.

Dr. Albert Popp, a Harvard neurosurgeon from California, tells a story from his life that contained advice that I will always consider as I transform throughout my medical career. Growing up, he had a doctor he would visit from birth up until college. This physician was his biggest inspiration and the reason he wanted to pursue medicine: to give back to a world that brought him up with so much love and empathy. When Dr. Popp informed his doctor of his successful entry into medical school, the doctor said that "he would no longer be charging [Dr. Popp] for medical care, now that [he] was a colleague in the medical profession! He said that was how professionals treated each other." Several decades later, Dr. Popp operated not only on his doctor's wife, but also on his hero himself for his brain tumor and saved his life. The operation was a success and demonstrated beautifully the circle of medicine which entails being a physician, a friend, and a patient.

There are many more stories in this amazing book, and I could write much more about how they have shaped my worldview of medicine. From learning about heartbreaking cases like locked-in syndrome, to hearing about doctors flying overseas to attend to a personal patient, this book is gold in its purest form. For a busy medical student like myself, it has been invaluable to read a book consisting of multiple mini stories, as I do not have time to follow throughout a whole book in one period. The lessons taught throughout the chapters are incredible and I could not speak more highly of this book and would recommend it to everyone. From the vulnerability of a transplant surgeon needing an emergency heart transplant himself, to the doctor who flew eight hours across the country to provide care to a personal patient, this book showed me the love, compassion, and empathy a surgeon carries both inside the field and out.


Review by Dania Khawaja