5 Things I Learned From Being A Heart Surgeon

Updated: May 11

I personally believe that all of us have our calling. Unfortunately, many people never figure it out until it's to late. I don't mean that they "can't" do what is their passion, but rather mean that family situations, financial hardship, and one's age often precludes one from pursing their dream. I was one of the fortunate ones. I was able to become a heart surgeon, a profession that I knew I wanted to do in 5th grade. I think it was a true lack of understanding what the committments that needed to be made to enter into a profession, that trains approximately 100 doctors yearly, that allowed me achieve my dream. I know that sounds contradictory, but it is often easier to forge ahead, through what I would characterize as mentally, emotionally, and physically abusive, when one believes that it will be different for them. It was only after I stopped doing heart surgery that I was able to understand the positive and negative effects the profession had on my life. Although I want to focus on the positives, I know that I gave up a large portion of my life to be a heart surgeon. I missed birthdays, holidays, trips, family tragedies, and mostly importantly had to put my life on hold. It didn't matter if I had a fever, or had a family issue that needed immediate attention, or was emotionally and physically exhausted, I learned that all of that was secondary if there was a heart surgery that needed to be done. When I stopped doing heart surgery, I would tell people that it was time that I "lived my life". The problem was I didn't and still don't know what that means. While I think it means that it means that I put myself first much of the time and take care of my needs, I think that the type of person who becomes a heart surgeon is unable to really grasp that concept. I would rather talk about what it was that I did learn by being a heart surgeon:

  1. There is no greater gift that touching the human heart on a daily basis both figuratively and literally. It is the heart that gives us life and as long as it beats there is hope. Hope that each one of us can do anything and everything that is humanly possible. Believe in the power of hope. Hope that severed relationships can be mended before it is to late. Hope that you can apologize for a misdeed or receive the apology of another who has wronged you. Because as long as your heart beats, forgiveness is possible. Being able to touch another beings heart allowed me to form a connection that was lifelong and many persist to this day. While my patients would say that I saved their lives, I viewed it more as they allowed and truststed me with the most sacred privelege one can have. To mend a broken heart and allow them to return to their former life and to have the chance to create new memories and spend time with those most important to them

  2. I learned at the end of the day, each one of us has a unique story to tell. I remember a good friend of mine telling me that it really pays off to allow space between you and the other party to really get to know each other. First, second, and even third impressions may not always last after all especially in times of strife, hardship, or pandemics. You learn more when you begin to be real and admit your faults and allow and encourage others to show their emotions without fear of judgement

  3. Intergrity is everything. Integrity is defined as the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles. In ethics, it regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. Simply put it is impossible to make it through nearly a decade of training after medical school without always exhibiting rigorous honesty. While many people may not like the truth or alter the truth to be self-serving in everyday life, the system of training does not allow it and eventually everyone who is dishonest and has no moral character will be weeded out. It's as simple as that. So as one of my attendings in cardiac surgery training said, "if Michael Richman says it, you can take it to the bank." Believe me, I wasn't always like that but you learn very quickly that one misstep or half-truth will get you kicked out even after eight years of training and there are no second chances.

  4. Simple things means the greater things. Make someone smile whenever you can. You never know how much of a difference you could make in their respective lives at that very moment. It's the effort that matters and that's where the heart of it all is. Lift somebobody else up through kind words and showing the simple respect that each one of us is entitled to as a human being. Ego is futile. At the end of the day, we are all the same.

  5. Don't ever give up because anything is possible. The fear of failure should never be a deterrent to going after what it is that you love. Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that looks good on the outside. My father used to tell me to shoot for the stars because if I failed, at least I tried. I know that determination is what gets you through brutal training and allows you to join a league of doctors who have a commitment to try and preserve human life no matter what. It prepared me to get through the most difficult times in my life and for that I am grateful.

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