Are we doing enough to encourage future surgeons?

Historically, a career in surgery has a notorious reputation, with anecdotes of long hours, difficult bosses and competitive hurdles. Yet there is still much appeal; perhaps due to the desire to master those surgical skills and the optimism of becoming a surgical consultant – especially one just as inspiring as the person who hooked you into the profession in the first place.

In the past decade there have been many changes to what it means to be a doctor. These, seemingly, have cumulated in ‘tick-box’ exercises, shift work and the strikes over the contract for junior doctors. Burnout and/or despondency is increasingly talked about. Mr O’Brien, President-Elect for BAUS (British Association of Urological Surgeons), recently presented at the Royal Society of Medicine his ‘Future of British Urology’; he spoke of many challenges ahead, but opportunities aplenty. He also suggested that anyone can be a urologist due to the breadth of skills required within the specialty; therefore, it is imperative to showcase surgical specialities and engage at grass roots level.

At a local and national level, we need to do more to ensure that bright, enthusiastic, able students and trainees who want to do surgery are encouraged and retained. Exposure to surgery, especially urology, is often limited at medical schools, and foundation year placements are becoming increasingly community based.

One way of inspiring and exposing junior colleagues to surgery and its specialties is to encourage attendance at the ASiT Conference, Birmingham 2020; and for urology, to attend the BSoT Conference, Leeds 2020. These national trainee groups: ASiT (Association of Surgeons in Training) and BSoT (BAUS Section of Trainees) are run by trainees, for trainees. They support best training and promote surgery as a career. They are a great introduction to surgery and urology as a future career and are a potentially less intimidating, more welcoming affair than their ‘grown up’ equivalents. Additional events run throughout the year and there are regional representatives for both ASiT and BSoT. There are other surgical trainee groups that relate to other specialties.

Attendance at conferences and surgical meetings are an amazing opportunity to engage in the scientific and social programmes, to meet other like-minded people and see the vast possibilities of the specialty. Furthermore, conferences offer the opportunity to present academic work, audit and quality improvement projects. The abstract deadlines for these trainee conferences are fast approaching. Helping a trainee prepare an abstract to submit, is invaluable; it could springboard their potential for success at interview and result in a boost of their self-belief.  

So, let us encourage surgery as a future career and show students and junior colleagues the best (and worst) of surgery and surgical training. Conferences are one option, but we can also all talk about surgical careers and be that positive role model: spark that enthusiasm. Urology taster weeks and careers days are other examples. Let’s congratulate successes and offer support during the difficult times.

What do you do to encourage the juniors around you? Please let us know in the comments below.

Disclaimer: The author is a current urology trainee and holds committee positions on both ASiT and BSoT groups. Her only conflict in writing this blog is to encourage others to engage and collaborate with these trainee-led groups and attend the upcoming conferences.

Comments (4) Add yours ↓
  1. Hannah Warren Urology Registrar

    While obviously trying to be welcoming, encouraging and enthusiastic in the day-to-day job so juniors have a positive experience in my speciality, there are also a number of formal initiatives I would recommend aimed at supporting those that have already declared an interest. Explore what your medical student societies already have up and running. KCL Surgical Society has a mentoring scheme where a medical student is paired with a surgical trainee with a view to gain exposure and get tips on improving their CV. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a number of enthusiastic medicals student over the last 3 years, tucking them under my wing and helping them grow into budding surgeons. There are student urology societies who put on regular events who would be delighted to receive offers of help (KCL and Bart’s are just two that I have volunteered for – find them on twitter). And even earlier than that – getting the right talent into medical school in the first place. The social mobility foundation help young people from less privileged backgrounds access higher education by pairing them with volunteer mentors from their desired profession – they have 4 times as many students interested in medicine than there are medics to mentor them. With just a handful of video call sessions a year it is very straight forward to make a big difference

    November 29, 2019 Reply
  2. Tom Stonier Urology ST3

    I completely agree medical students/Foundation doctors are often told about ‘getting involved’ in audits and research etc. Yet how to actually approach this can seem daunting. One of the reasons I ended up as a Urology trainee is because of the enthusiasm of a trainer (Mr Paras Singh) to not only get me involved in surgery but also guide me through my first audit. As a trainer though this must not stop here, we need to be mindful of ensuring the student/junior gets what they need out of it – typically this will be presenting it as a poster or orally at one of these conferences. Often, unless they are guided towards BSOT/ASIT/RSM they may not know where to start and the opportunity will be lost.

    Finally a plug for the RSM who are hosting a Career in Urology day for Medical students and Foundation Years. A great opportunity to hear about a career in Urology and there is poster prize competition.

    November 30, 2019 Reply
  3. Tarik Amer

    This is very a well written article full of valid points. Every August, it’s exciting to see so many motivated new young trainees and fellows eager to pursue a career in surgery. However, too often, a number of these bright, engaged future Consultants leave surgery just as their careers are getting going. Reasons cited are the hours, sacrifice, frustration at perceived lack of progress, exams, difficult personalities etc. Having just started as a Consultant, I feel I’ve seen too many great prospects leave the profession since I started my training.

    In essence, to answer the question “Are we doing enough to encourage future surgeons?” my answer is no. That’s not to say that trainers and organizations across the country are not working hard to promote surgery to our juniors and students, we are just not doing it enough of the time.

    I think attending meetings such as those mentioned are so invaluable. I personally am indebted to the mentorship received from Consultants I’ve met at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) Urology and Safety Sections over the years. The ability to see cutting edge research presentations whilst also receiving informal advice over a coffee is quite unique to the RSM. As important, has been seeing the good work and progress by my peers and friends made there and in other courses outside of work.. Such friends became FRCS revision buddies and research collaborators. More importantly, they’ve been confidantes when I wanted to discuss challenges. Such a network is a great source of encouragement.

    At a grassroots level, in our own workplaces, we should strive to make surgery seem an attractive career choice by ensuring we manage our own stress and contribute to a positive culture/vibe on a daily basis. We should structure job plans/rotas for our juniors that strike a generous balance between training and service and make time to train them on a daily basis. This includes filling in all the ISCP forms that we all love. If confident, we should help our juniors write their first papers and posters, even if we’re not that confident about it ourselves!

    Hopefully, by doing all this and by encouraging healthy behaviours and lifestyles in and outside of work rather than the ongoing rhetoric about ‘resilience’, we can promote a culture in which young surgeons can flourish and feel valued and become the Consultant surgeons of the future.

    December 2, 2019 Reply
  4. Matthew Perry Consultant Urological Surgeon

    The first two sentences of the above article are telling! The sterotypes of surgical life are therefore still circulated and as such I don’t think we are doing enough to support and encourage junior docs into the field of surgery. The surgeons of today will find their lives change dramatically over the next decade as we inherit the advances in technology with image guidance, focused treatments and ever further minimisation of surgical instruments and techniques. The future is incredible.
    On a recent trip to Amsterdam with a travelling surgical society, we met and had lectures from some Dutch surgical trainees. Most of the women worked 60% rotas and men 80%. These young professionals taking the “slow road” to their final destination of a surgical consultant but managing family life and responsibilities along with their continued learning. They knew that they would be in the profession for decades to come, why the rush and why the risk of burnout? This was a challenging concept for most of us visitors but hugely refreshing in many ways including the challenge to gender bias in the family vs career argument. Once again we can learn from the progressive Dutch.

    December 5, 2019 Reply

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