I have a handy book for my surgery rotation, entitled Surgical Recall. It’s a review book for the clueless 3rd year medical student. I found a trenchant piece of advice near the beginning, which has stuck with me throughout the rotation. Now, however, I’m beginning to wonder whether the advice is really worth much, hence this blog.
The advice appears under a heading called “The Perfect Surgery Student”. What medical student doesn’t want to be the perfect surgery student? Even the one dreaming of becoming a psychiatrist has a vested interest in passing every rotation with flying colors. Besides, medical students are driven over achievers to begin with. Whether surgery holds the slightest attraction or not, passing the rotation with high grades and well-earned praise not only looks good; it feels good.
According to my dandy review book “the perfect surgery student” is, among many other things, “never hungry, thirsty or tired”, “always enthusiastic”, “loves scut work and can never get enough”, and “never wants to leave the hospital”. The list is quite long, but to sum it up, my book says that the perfect surgery student is “a high-speed, low-drag, hardcore HAMMERHEAD” and the definition of hammerhead is this:
“A hammerhead is an individual who places his head to the ground and hammers through any and all obstacles to get a job done and then asks for more work. One who gives 110% and never complains. One who desires work”
After six weeks on my surgery rotation, I know first hand that this definition of the perfect surgery student is bang on correct. Residents and attendings love students with these attributes. Success on the wards depends entirely on how closely students approximate the ideal hammerhead. I have, therefore, done my utmost to be a hammerhead. Unfortunately for me, hammerheads are superhuman. And I am not.
Loma Linda University apparently embodies a simple mission: “to make man whole”. But do hammerheads experience wholeness? Nowhere in the definition of a hammerhead can I see anything about being joyful, fulfilled, or genuinely caring. Is it even theoretically possible? I don’t think so. Hard work and absolute commitment to excellence are certainly important components of wholeness, but a hammerhead is clearly an obsessive workaholic.
For better or worse, I’ve chosen to reject the hammerhead ideal in favor of the official mission of Loma Linda University. The painful irony of this choice is not lost on me. At least in the short term, the pursuit of wholeness in medical school leads to a certain sacrifice of so called perfection. On the other hand, the unbalanced, uncompromising pursuit of professional medical perfection leads to a certain loss of personal wholeness. I pick wholeness.