A surgeon’s unlikely Observership

After a full year of hitting the books, learning medical foundation, and clinical technique, the question of ‘why am I doing this?’ might start to creep into your brain. But you can thank your lucky stars - MD Observership to the rescue!

At first glance: Medicine requirements during break?! Do I have to?

There is no doubt that year one will be a wild ride full of ups, downs, and lots of hard work.

While you may be thinking, “who wants the added burden of an 8-week mandatory Observership during what should be a break?” But, trust me when I tell you, Observership is just the breath of fresh air that you need.  

We all have a spark that ignited our passion to pursue medicine and I imagine, for most of us, it includes a desire for the clinical element. Yet we must crawl before we walk and year one is the proverbial crawl. There is little in the way of true clinical exposure during the first-year curriculum.  That’s, of course, for good reason - we don’t really know anything in year one (lol). But by the end of it, we have a pretty solid foundation and Observership is a really fun way to see just how far you’ve come.

A surgeon at heart

Some say you are either a surgeon or you’re not. I don’t know how true the old adage is, but I DEFINITELY know I have the heart of a surgeon. As soon as the opportunity presented itself to request a surgical experience, I was the first person to send in my ‘please and thank you.’

I had spent the year participating in every event Incision the UQ surgery club had given. I had brushed up on my anatomy. I was READY to put it all to the test.

When I got the email stating I had been assigned to surgery at Mater Hospital, I thought the heavens had opened up and poured out all that was good in the world. I know, I know… the drama is real! But that truly sums up how excited I was to get into the OR (or operating theatre as they call it in Australia).

I told everyone who would listen. One of the UQ-Ochsner alumni told me not to be too excited because, “first years don’t get to do anything,” but I took that with a grain of salt. NOTHING was going to dampen my joy.

As day one quickly approached, I was anxious to learn what area I would be working in. I knew it would be surgical in nature, but I hadn’t the slightest idea of which specialty. When I could no longer take the anticipation, I reached out to the clinical team at Mater and begged for even the slightest hint. They were kind enough to reply, but little did I know, there was something that could actually dampen my joy. It was one simple word - colorectal.

My hands-on experience in colorectal surgery

The idea of being knee-deep in faeces for four weeks was not my idea of a good time. I vowed I would make the most of the experience, but my eagerness had definitely dipped on the index scale. Luckily for me, what I thought I knew and what it turned out to be could not have been more polar opposite.

From the moment I stepped into the unit, the colorectal team welcomed me with open arms and, to my delight, that day I went straight from clinic into theatre to see my first laparoscopic appendectomy; up close and personal. I was jittery and TERRIFED when I walked into the small, chilly room, but it very quickly became my home away from home.

That appendectomy turned out to be the only surgery I didn’t scrub into over the next five weeks (yes, I even opted for an extra week). I donned most of my time specifically with colorectal, but when other surgical teams were doing cool things - like removing a foreign body (aka sweet potato) from the rectum - I was able to float to those areas.

As the assist, I retracted body parts, identified key organs, and controlled the camera during laparoscopic procedures. I learned to do proper hand ties and suturing techniques, both in and out of theatre. I helped close on many occasions and was even allowed to cauterize a thing or two. And the fun continued outside of theatre as well. During clinics, I put into practice all of the physical exam and patient interviewing techniques taught throughout year one.

What I learnt

Needless to say, I had a whirlwind romance with colorectal surgery and it was hard to say goodbye.

The simple moral of this story is - don’t judge a book by its cover! This applies to the concept of Observership as well as the area you are assigned. We are all tired at the end of year one and anxious for a much needed break, but Observership is all the ‘coolness’ you think medical school will be that you don’t get to experience in year one.

So, when it’s finally your turn, take a deep breath, exhale all the stress of year one, buckle up, and enjoy the coolest ride of your medical career to date.

Last updated:
2 March 2020