10 Things I Learned While Shadowing an Orthopedic Surgeon

Originally posted August 16th, 2015

I’ve spent a good chunk of my summer following a fantastic orthopedic surgeon in the clinic (the hospital wouldn’t approve me for the OR booo). It was so much fun, and I learned a ton, not just about orthopedics but the qualities that a good doctor should have. I’ve seen a lot of great things that I thought you guys would find it interesting!

I’m slowly being pulled into a torrent of a competitive specialty and I’m terrified, but sometimes you just can’t fight the feeling. I’m still keeping an open mind of course! But maybe I’m into it. 

My experience is just one of many, and will be different from yours and others. This is just my take, so I hope you enjoy!

1. Everyone gets osteoarthritis. EVERYONE.

You’re going to get it. I’m going to get it. Everyone will get it. It just depends on when. It’s such a major cause of pain, and there isn’t too much that can be done for it once it gets bad enough, except to get brand new joints. But! If you use your body the way it’s suppose to by doing plenty of walking and getting those shoulders, hips and knees in the groove it supposedly keeps you from getting the pains that ache and never leave.

2. Charisma is king in this specialty. 

I haven’t done rotations yet, and I’ve only shadowed so many doctors, but I have never seen patients who were once ornery and pissed for waiting for 2 hours to have some staples removed melt into mush babies as soon as the doctor starts talking to them. He relates to the patients so amazingly. He had the way. I learned a ton of tricks and for the few times I got to in on my own, I got to practice my own form of doctor charisma. And let me tell you guys. Learn to do it.

3. Joint replacements are not for the youth. 

THEY ARE FOR OLDER FOLKS. People in their 70s and 80s. People who will most likely not need a revision in 20 years. Sometimes it for people who need nothing but comfort. But more and more people in their 60s, 50s and even 40s need them on the regular. Luckily, technology evolves and joint replacements are made of better material, stronger alloys, and last longer than replacements from even 10 years ago. But technology can’t change the original purpose at least not yet.

4. Try somewhere else for pain meds. 

Many hospital systems do not allow orthopods to prescribe long term narcotics for pain. They can only give the good stuff (if you count terrible constipation as good) after surgery and for a few weeks afterwards. You actually have to get them from a primary care or pain management doc.

5. There no middle ground for cortisol. You either REALLY want the shot or you REALLY don’t. 

There is a face that patients make who have never had a large shot before. They clench up, shoulders rise, their eyes widen and search for anyone else in the room for confirmation that this won’t be completely terrible. It’s no little baby needle either. Those who accept grin and bear it, hopefully to become a little more seasoned like those who are basically ready to stick themselves. No fear, not a flinch. They’re ready and they want that relief. Rarely ever is anyone indifferent, or so I’ve seen.

6. If you think you break your finger/toe go get checked out right away!

This is more of a PSA but fingers and toes heal really quickly, so after ¾ weeks they can’t do much to fix those tootsies. I saw at least 4 people who’s poor fingers were forever shortened, or bent to a new odd direction that are now fated to be that way forever. So don’t end up like with with a mutant pinky, and take care of your digits.

7. Always and forever behind on patients. 

At least in this clinic. Let me tell you, the PAs at this office were on point. But when you only schedule 5 to 10 minutes per patient what do you think would happen! Sometimes it was a quick in and out, but with charisma comes conversation and with conversation comes a need for time. Plus people usually have a lot a questions when it comes to pain or surgery, and sometimes certain causes of pain can be confusing (like the difference between hip and back pain). But that’s just the way, for everyone.
8. Sometimes it takes someone outside a specialty to figure out what the problem is. 

There was more than once instance where the orthopedic surgeon figured out a long undiagnosed genetic disease, or found that back pain was really due to a neurological reason, and not a bulging disc. And there were other times where he would receive information from a patient’s cardiologist or primary care doc saying they found s source of pain that was orthopedic in nature. From that I learned even if you are the master of your specialty, you may not always have all the answers which is why it’s so important for medicine to be a team.

9. There may not be many female physicians but there are plenty of female medical professionals and staff in an ortho setting.

It’s very true that women are a small minority of orthopedic surgeons (14% of residents currently) but that’s something that’s starting to take a shift. But that doesn’t mean an orthopedic service just the boy’s club it’s made out to be. Many of the PAs, nurses, PTs, and Athletic trainers were amazing, intelligent and talented women who were insanely important to the entire entity that is orthopedic medicine. And they were awesome and I can only hope to be as great as they are one day.

10. Orthopedics is good mix of consistent patient care and awesome surgery!

I didn’t know very much about orthopedics until the summer before I started medical school. I had a good idea of what happened in a surgical setting and being as much of a people-person as I am, I wondered if that part of surgery would deter me. Turns out, orthopedics does a pretty good job of blending nonsurgical, (somewhat) long-term care with in-depth and (sometimes) complex procedures. I would say its a good blend of both worlds, and I guess I’m into that even if it scares me.

Not all of this applies totally and wholly to the specialty orthopedic surgery, but I think it gives a pretty good representation of different types of medicines. Even if ortho doesn’t interested you, you’ve got to admit. It’s pretty cool.

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