On Being a Surgeon

June 15, 2018   

As many of my readers know, I have trained and practiced medicine in Somalia as a general surgeon. People often express bewilderment or curiosity when I share my experience working in Somalia. In this post, I will describe my experience so far. This week has been particularly hectic, and I need to organize my thoughts coherently here. But despite the challenges, I feel grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those in need.

My operating room in Somalia feels like a battlefield! Supplies are scarce, and conditions are harsh. To succeed as a surgeon here, I must be both efficient and resourceful. I am constantly assessing how to make the most of our limited resources. The operating room is highly unpredictable, so I am always on guard and ready for anything. In the meantime, I am either operating on elective cases such as hernias or small procedures such as abscess drainage or skin debridement. Sometimes, surgical emergencies arise throughout the day and I’m always called to step in. My goal is not to perform the most complex surgeries, but to save lives with the resources available. With a friendly and enthusiastic attitude, I am confident that I can make a difference! If I am unable to provide the necessary care for a patient, my job is not complete until I have transported them to a facility that can.

The more I practice surgery in Somalia, the more I realize that my primary role is to make things happen with limited resources. I have learned that to excel as a surgeon in this environment, I must master the art of resourcefulness. To achieve this, I must first recognize that my OR staff are the heart and soul of our work. Without them, I would be able to accomplish very little. It involves identifying critically ill patients and mobilizing my team to get them into surgery as quickly as possible, despite obstacles. It also means utilizing every available item in innovative ways to perform procedures. Making things happen requires constant creative thinking with the resources at hand. Making things happen is such an exciting challenge! But that’s not all. It’s an art that I have had to master, and saving lives is my primary goal.

As a clinician with extensive experience in identifying surgical processes that could be fatal if left unattended, I take on the challenge of recognizing life-threatening conditions even with limited diagnostics. When a child presents with abdominal pain and rigidity, I know that they likely have a perforated appendix and I act quickly to get them to the operating room. I can’t simply observe them overnight and hope for the best - I know that every second counts when it comes to saving a life!

When I am caring for patients, I treat them like family. I make eye contact, listen attentively, and show empathy. Effective communication is crucial to a good outcome. I always let my patients know that they can inform me if they need anything. If my patients are uncomfortable, I am uncomfortable. And even though some patients may experience negative outcomes despite my best efforts, I never use this as an excuse to provide anything less than my utmost care.

In the end, my patients may not remember all the details of their visit, but they will always cherish the emotions I made them feel.

Edited for Clarity in Jan-2024

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