I had been told by a plastic surgeon, “If you can find any specialty outside of surgery that you could find yourself liking, do that. Because if you don’t absolutely love surgery, it can be miserable.”
I thought I loved surgery. I had a job during my undergraduate schooling working in the operating room as an orderly, where I would scrub in on a variety of surgeries to offer an extra hand where needed. I loved my job. I thought the surgeries were fascinating, and the operating room was exciting. As a result, I made up my mind early on in medical school that I would do surgery. I liked the immediate fix to a problem and working with my hands. My interests went from orthopedics to ENT, sensing that it was a field where my personality seemed to mesh well, and I liked working with the airway. In surgical fields, rounding did not take hours to complete, and clinic was not a daily thing.
Unfortunately, I spent my fourth year of medical school doing audition rotations and other ENT rotations to make myself competitive for the upcoming match. I was excited about my newfound passion for ENT, but I was worried about burnout and the seemingly never-ending sacrifices I would have to ask my family to make if I were to be a surgeon. While the thought had crossed my mind that I would like anesthesia, I had already dedicated so much of my time to prepare my resume to match into ENT. My fourth year of medical school was essentially all ENT rotations, whether it was an elective rotation at my home institution or an away rotation. The rest of my rotations were required by the medical school, and I was left without any room for me to do an early rotation in anesthesia.
I missed out on learning and career exploration opportunities. I was somewhat reluctant as match week approached, and I wondered if surgery really was right for me.
The Monday of match week came, and I opened my email. “We are sorry, you did not match into any position.” My heart sank. I had put so much effort into matching. As disappointing as it was, I looked at the news as an opportunity to reflect on what I really wanted in a career. I was given a second chance to explore my career options. I immediately contacted my medical school administration and enrolled in an extra advanced anesthesiology rotation.
I loved my anesthesiology rotation. It offered everything surgery did and more. Instead of quick rounds in the morning, there were no rounds. Instead of minimal clinic, there was no clinic. I could still see the immediate results from my interventions. Pharmacology and physiology were integral parts of the specialty. I could still work with my hands. Anesthesiology required quick thinking and problem solving when the stakes were very high. And at the end of the day, I could go home and not worry about follow-up and post-operative complications—I could leave my work at work. I liked that anesthesiologists had a unique role in advocating for patient safety pre-, peri-, and post-operatively.
It was not exactly easy giving up the idea of being a surgeon—something I had worked so hard for throughout medical school. However, I knew that as an anesthesiologist, I would still work in the operating room, but such a career would also allow me to pursue other passions outside of the operating room, minimizing burnout.
And, just as important to me, I found that my laid-back personality meshed well with the anesthesiologists. Half way through my anesthesiology rotation, I was excited that I had found a career path that would make me happy.
My path to anesthesiology would have been much easier if I had the opportunity to do a two- or four-week anesthesia rotation during my third or fourth year in medical school. The rotation would have given me an opportunity to know if that field was for me. If I did not like it, I would have gone into surgery with a strong foundation of what goes on at the anesthesia end of the operating room table. I would have been able to appreciate the critical thinking and problem solving involved, helping me be more understanding of the work of an anesthesiologist.
I feel like there is a lot of value in medical schools requiring rotations in anesthesia. Medical students would gain a better understanding of anesthesiology, and they would have an opportunity to explore it as a career option. Many medical schools across the nation require anesthesiology rotations in either third or fourth year of medical school, and as a result, they consistently see greater numbers of students that match into anesthesiology. This approach could be incorporated on a national level so that surgeons may have a better idea of what is involved in anesthetizing a patient, or it may give medical students like me exposure, and allow me to make a career decision of being an anesthesiologist.
My journey gave me time for introspection, and I realized that I did not love surgery. I am grateful for the advice I received from that plastic surgeon, and I look at not matching as a second opportunity. I have found anesthesiology, and I am confident that it will provide me with a very rewarding career and a happy life.