- Professional Development
November 10, 2017
Gregory Kennedy, MD, PhD
“(S)he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
The passion of academic surgeons often centers on activities under-valued and under-appreciated by hospital administrators. We focus a great deal of effort on trying to improve the world through endeavors like research and education. We give our time and energy to activities that do not lead to work RVUs and dollar generation. We take time away from our families and friends to help others around us improve themselves. We contribute significant amounts of ourselves to developing research questions and protocols in an attempt to improve the care of patients and have an impact felt by more than just the single patient sitting in front of us. We also contribute tremendous energy to training the next generation of surgeons in hopes that they will go out and change the world through scientific inquiry and self-sacrifice. All of these activities are undervalued and yet we persevere. Why?
Living a life of sacrifice. That is what we do. We give of ourselves to help others. Whether it is helping the patient sitting in front of you with newly diagnosed breast cancer or helping the resident surgeon figure out how to do the perfect bowel anastomosis- we are dedicated to a life of service. Allowing ourselves to be used as tools to serve a greater good. This is how we live our lives. Why?
The “why” is easy-- we are committed to others. It is our purpose. It is why we get up in the morning, put on our shoes and walk out the door before the sun is up. It is why we are still at work under the fluorescent lights when the sun goes down. Why we come home and find our family at the dinner table waiting for us. We serve others. We live this life of purpose so others can get healthy and achieve their goals. Do not get me wrong, there are too numerous to count benefits for us. Fulfillment comes through these activities. We are energized by the achievements of our patients, our residents and students, and our laboratory staff. Renewal comes each day through these successes. It is how we are wired.
Not many in the world share these values. It is estimated that less than 0.1% of the population in the United States is employed as a surgeon. Fewer than 10% of these surgeons are employed in academic practices. Finding a peer group that share your priorities and values is critically important for all professionals. Without peer groups, we run the risk of feeling alone in our daily struggle to accomplish our personal and professional missions. If we are to maintain our health and happiness this threat of isolation must not take hold in our lives. Finding escape routes from this potential loneliness is critical and professional societies can provide those paths. However, it is important the society be personalized and serve your exact needs. The Society of University Surgeons fills this need to be surrounded by mid-career surgeons who are dedicated to a life of service. We are a group of academics that believe a life of service to our patient goes beyond the day’s operative list. We believe that our obligation to patient care requires a research program, educational program, and a commitment to other surgeons that results in changing the care and outcomes of treatments on a much larger scale. It is this belief that brings us together as sisters and brothers in the SUS.
The SUS was established in 1938 by a group of surgeons committed to a life of academic service. This commitment still resonates with us today. Our President’s talk about this life of service and commitment. In fact, our immediate past President, Dr. Rebecca Minter, described her incredible career that has been defined by “Passion, Integrity, and Resilience”. These core values have allowed her to succeed in the face of great adversity and have also kept her focused on the education of the next generation of surgeons. Through the adherence to these core values, she has become a leader in today’s world of academic surgery. Organizations like the SUS enable like-minded individuals to come together and connect.
This connection leads to collaboration, commiseration, and, most importantly, long-lasting friendships. In fact, some of my best friends of my adult life have developed through my participation in the SUS. Our friendships have developed because of our passion and commitment to a life of service. I am surrounded by people constantly striving to advance the art and science of surgery through investigation, education, and leadership. Members of the SUS live by these principles and this is the reason we join the SUS and commit our time and energy to this society.
I started this essay with a quote by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. This quote reminds me to remember the “why” in what I am doing. For me the “why” is to work towards making the world a better place through service to those around me. If I can remember my purpose, I feel happier with my day no matter how it seems to be going. The triage of another grant, the rejection of another paper, or the realization that I need to be a better teacher can always be put into the context of my why and I can find the strength and courage to move forward. In fact, one can see this reason for existence in most of the members of the SUS. As we gather and connect, I find inspiration and rejuvenation through their collective accomplishments and passions. I urge you to join us, get active in the society, and find friends who hold the same values and ideals as you.