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From Biology Class to Surgical Theater: My Journey to Becoming a Surgeon

Feb 23, 2023 | 0 comments

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Feb 23, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

I was 12 years old when I saw my grandfather die of undiagnosed diabetic coma. This occurrence ignited the need to fight against avoidable death. Two years later I was invited to a class majoring in biology in one of the Moscow top high schools. The classes were taught by professors from Moscow State University. This experience instilled in me critical thinking and research skills a good foundation for University. In my course project, I opted to study birch leaves variability using geometric morphometry, etiological features of hamsters and the differences in response to exercise between genders. The whole high school experience was very challenging and a wonderful learning experience, allowing me to grasp basic sciences skills in Medical University.

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I had reservations about going to medical school since I wasn’t sure of my future specialty. I, however, decided to, when an opportunity came my way. During my first meeting with the student research group, we visited one of the largest centers for cardiovascular surgery. We visited the Neonatal Cardiac ICU, which made me realize how much knowledge, commitment and skills I needed for the life of patients would be in my hands. However, I stacked on a big surgery and was motivated enough, that a year later I made a presentation to a student section of all Russian meeting for Cardiac Surgeons. That experience built my courage and the need to learn even more.

Being the enthusiastic student, I volunteered in the thoracic department in one of the largest local hospitals. In the three years as a volunteer, I acquired several skills such as understanding of the protocols of adult cardiac and thoracic procedures. In the evenings, I was involved in peer recordings of operations and analyzed them frame by frame.

I was very passionate about learning, and I remember in the third year I carried with me thin rubber tubes, sutures, and instruments. Sometimes people would steal weird glances at me when I would request to buy porcine hearts for my private practice anastomoses. Most of the time I would also scrub in for experiments in animal facilities; in addition, I would assist transmyocardial laser revascularization procedures. I found it very tricky to mark tiny burns with epicardialprolene 7/0 sutures in an off-pump setting.

I believe that my fine motor skills acquired some benefits from intensive piano lessons I had as a child. My parents were perfectionists, wanting to raise a new Van Cliburn. I still have a photo of myself in Moscow Conservatory playing a grand piano. Who would have thought I would be here, thank God my parents quit my musical career and allowed me to be a doctor.

I have always been lucky to have teachers who nurtured my medical judgment in line with an evidence-based approach. Medicine is indeed an art to some extent; you only need years of experience to make sense of it. As a young doctor, it is reasonable to rely on guidelines with proven efficacy than on diagnostic acumen or the sixth sense. High-quality physical examination training and history taking is the oldest tradition in our medical school. With the few years of exposure to clinical surgery I have learned that ‘big preparing means small surgery’ and vice-versa.

Service to all my patients has always been my priority that I enjoy using both my medical and non-medical skills. I remember a 33-year old man who was suffering from malignant thymoma with an extensive local invasion and a complicated vena cava syndrome. My enthusiasm for medical imaging and 3D modeling helped me design a radical resection. I do not see a reward bigger than a thank you. Little things, for instance, dressing a patient on your day off are what makes me feel happy to be a doctor.

I am very passionate about finding solutions to non-trivial problems. I remember a group of students and I investigated intracardiac hemodynamic at Barkley Centre, we then invented a robust and precise method of trabecular meshwork measurements for the left ventricular cavity. This year I have been lucky enough to spend a few months in Baltimore studying hospitalization data. I familiarized myself with statistical language R and wrote some scripts for automatic trends analysis.

During my internship, I have confirmed that I made the right choice. Surgery is a unique blend of clinical medicine, fundamental science, and erudition in related areas allowing you to focus on one problem at a time. Last year, was my best year, my dreams came true. I was able to get high-quality training in the United States. With those skills, I will make all possible efforts to become an excellent surgeon and perhaps make some contribution to science. Five years from now, I would love to be in thoracic or vascular fellowship. From the residency program, I will receive vigorous training, stay motivated and a compassionate team player eager to help his patients and colleagues. I realize that I found myself, and it is time to create myself.

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