Senior surgeon, seasoned locum tenens, on the importance of role models

My essay,” On the importance of role models: The views of a senior surgeon,” appeared in the February 2010 edition of the Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons. Two stories inspired me to write it—one about an “eternal fellow” who found outstanding role models who helped him fulfill his dreams and become an excellent surgeon, and the other told by the daughter of a close friend and colleague who rejected the possibility of a surgical career on the first day of her first clinical rotation. In one day she concluded that surgeons were not the kind of people she wanted to work with every day.

It got me thinking (and writing), “…whether we realize it or not, our performances are closely observed and internally graded by the next generation of ‘could-be’ surgeons….and even if the patient does well, we may not have succeeded in the important area of providing those around us with a model of who a surgeon can be.”

I was fortunate to have several important role models/mentors in my life, from the pediatrician who set my course toward medicine when I was 10 years old, to the chief of surgery who took the time to attend the induction of my medical school class, to the pediatrician and public health specialist who introduced me to the service aspects of our profession, and finally, to a master surgeon of the old school who could do absolutely everything, from “orthopaedics to urology to gynecology to neurosurgery to anesthesia,” and had decided to dedicate his entire professional career to service of people in rural and isolated settings.

As I wrote in the essay, none of these physicians set out to be role models for me. They were just being themselves, and in the process, being the kind of physicians we should all strive to be. Because it should be obvious to my colleagues and fellow “senior surgeons,” if we don’t inspire the next generation of “could-be” surgeons, who will be there to take care of us when we need care?

Note: You can read Dr. Shulman’s entire essay on the American College of Surgeon’s website,

http://www.facs.org/fellows_info/bulletin/2010/shulman0210.pdf.