A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure [Clinics Series]

“Surgeons get to be the heroes,” she claimed.  “Think about on TV, when they’re running out of options, and they say, ‘There’s only one way to save him.  Send him to surgery.'” She tossed her head dramatically for emphasis.

This was spoken by one of my classmates during our second year of vet school, in response to someone’s question of why she wanted to be a surgeon.  This is NOT me. I don’t mind surgery, per se, but I also really like being able to scratch my own nose whenever the urge arises.  Nevertheless,  the beauty (or the curse) of vet school clinical rotations is that there are certain graduation requirements you have to complete, and, for me, Small Animal Soft Tissue and Oncological Surgery was one of them.

Soft tissue surgery, in general, describes any surgery that involves the skin, muscles, or internal organs.  This excludes neurosurgery, which goes to the neurology service, and also excludes any surgery that gets too close to the eye, which goes to ophthalmology.  It also excludes surgery that cuts into bones (orthopedic surgery), but it includes limb amputations (since you cut through soft tissues to remove a limb).  It also includes oncological (cancer) surgery.  This rotation has a pretty gnarly reputation for 80+ hour work weeks in which students are regularly reduced to mushy puddles of exhaustion.  However, for whatever reason, the schedule was pretty “light” when I was on the rotation, so I only worked ~60 hours per week.

In general, the schedule is divided up so that the service receives patients as appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays and performs surgery on Wednesdays and Fridays.  That being said, you could end up performing surgery any day of the week, depending on emergencies.  In theory, we have topic rounds in the afternoons on slow days, but this only happened once on my two week rotation.  We did have patient rounds at the end of every day.  These rounds are where we go down the list of the patients on the service, and the student responsible for that patient gives an update on how they’re doing in the hospital.  While I didn’t necessarily enjoy these rounds on the days when they were the only thing standing between me and my freedom to leave the hospital, in hindsight I’m glad we did them, since it increased our learning opportunity beyond our own cases.

All told, I got to assist with four surgeries during the two week block – revision of a tail amputation, a penile amputation, an adrenalectomy, and excision of a peripheral nerve sheath tumor.   I also got to observe surgeries on which I wasn’t the primary student, including multiple limb amputations, correction of brachycephalic airway syndrome, and surgical biopsies of the gastrointestinal tract.  I still can’t say that I get especially jazzed about doing surgery, but I’m thankful I had the opportunity to participate in this rotation.  In particular, I’m thankful that the rotation wasn’t as busy as usual, so I had enough time to sleep, which makes a huge difference in my ability to learn.  It turned out that I was much better rested than I anticipated as I started my next block, which wasn’t particularly important considering that it was vacation!

This post is part of a series documenting my clinical year in veterinary school.  To read more from the series, please visit the Clinic Series homepage.

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