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So as you can imagine, my family has been having a lot of conversations lately about cardiology and cardiac surgery. My father was already quite well-informed about the subject, because his own father suffered from cardiac disease (confirming the well-established wisdom that such things run in the family, and making me think it might be wise one of these days to have my own ticker checked out: What keeps me from doing it is not wanting to know, which I know isn’t the most courageous way to approach these matters. I’ll get around to it. I think I’m okay for now.)
Anyway, we’ve been talking about the personalities of people who go into cardiac surgery as a speciality. There are lots of stereotypes, of course: I liked this blog, written by a woman who in no way would I consult for any medical problem, given that she’s “a physician who is intuitive and a Reiki Master/Teacher discusses healing from ‘the front lines’ of the mind-body connection in the hospital setting.” But her description of the temperaments of cardiovascular surgeons seemed interesting to me:
Cardiovascular surgeons are the last of the “old boys school” for the most part. There are notable exceptions, which I will discuss later. They are emotional, angry titans who split sternums and work on some really sick people. Some contain it better than others. … I have seen patients die from pride of the surgeon and the anesthesiologist and the rest of the team. … Pride is an element in the heart room. Ego reigns. Dominance, aggression, control, continuity. There is no compassion. Not for anyone…
On this blog, Aaron Singh asks why surgeons have such big egos:
[The surgeons] were the ones who walked past you with a sense of purpose, with an expression that sent lesser medical personnel scurrying out of their paths in terror, and with eyes whose gaze could physically melt medical students if you weren’t careful. Several walked past us, instantly recognizable, and those who bothered to look at us did so with a disdainful expression, dismissing our existence as being too trivial to bother their exalted minds. They were Lords of their Domain; entire operating theatres were built as shrines to their greatness. Why shouldn’t they walk around as if they owned the place?
I’ve always wondered why surgeons seem to be more affected by the famous God complex that seems so prevalent in the medical profession. Recently, my cousin brother underwent surgery, as I talked about in my previous post, and the surgeon who operated on him, whilst perfectly competent, also demonstrated this uppity demeanour. She strode into the OT (fashionably late) without seeing him pre-op, and didn’t even check on him post-op. During the surgery she didn’t bother to reassure him; it was the nurses who did this.
“Stepping into the operating room to perform heart surgery on a sick patient, being fully in control of the large team of people who are required to do the procedure, and feeling totally prepared to perform the task at hand is an unbelievable feeling that can barely be described.”
Or this one from Dr. Paul Corso:
Heart surgeons are aggressive, intelligent, driven people who have mental, emotional and physical endurance. We are born with all of these factors, but need to develop them into their highest form. Some people say heart surgeons are jerks, and we’re probably that, too.
“Cardiac surgeons,” writes Kathleen Doheny, “driven and dedicated, tend to see things in yes or no terms, says a physician in another specialty. ‘Fish or cut bait. They tend to be pushy.’ When a cardiac surgeon decides it’s time to head to the operating room, stand back.”
Anyway, this morning my brother and I were wondering how this personality type — and it is, it seems, a distinct one — would translate into a politician’s leadership style. We were playing a little game, trying to decide which figures from history would have been good cardiac surgeons. Perhaps Stalin missed his calling: Might he have been a fine cardiac surgeon instead of a bloody tyrant?
What about Ben Carson? I imagine that neurosurgeons and cardiac surgeons share similar temperaments, as a rule. Is a neurosurgeon’s temperament the right temperament for the President of the United States?
Are any of you cardiac surgeons? Neurosurgeons? Know any? Are the stereotypes true? Would knowing that surgeons share a personality type seem relevant to you in trying to figure out what kind of politician a surgeon might be? In Carson’s case, after all, knowing that he was a great surgeon is really all we know: So would that kind of personality be an asset in the White House or a liability?
(By the way, although I didn’t get to spend much time with him, my father’s surgeon seemed to defy these stereotypes: He’s a gentle and very devout Catholic who goes to Mass every morning, and seemed in no way a bully or a jerk. So obviously, there are exceptions.)