ReconSpineTell It Like It Is: Anonymous Surgeons Speak

Surgeon: Park the Ego, Hold the Tongue

by Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.Ed., M.P.H., July 18, 2019

Even if you are the superhero second surgeon who swoops in and fixes the problem the first surgeon created, resist the temptation to deride the other physician, says one high-volume orthopedic surgeon.

“So often I have seen a surgeon let his ego take over and say something like, ‘I don’t know why your knee/hip/spine surgeon would have done that, or I have never seen anyone do that, or just a subtle “wow.’ This message may be direct or indirect, but it is terrible on every level.”

“Even if you don’t like surgeon number one, ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ‘How does this help anyone?’

“If you tell a patient that it was surgeon number one’s fault then they are never happy. Even if you do a great job with the revision they are still peeved. You have doomed that patient to negativity when it comes to the surgery. Even if you don’t care about the patient or surgeon number one, you have let your ego get so big that you’ve just screwed yourself (along with the patient and surgeon number one).” 

“Furthermore, if you are doing a revision surgery, likely the outcome won’t be perfect either.  Perhaps when the patient sues doctor number one, they might sue you too.”

Don’t attach negativity to the surgical experience…

“If, on the other hand, you tell a patient, ‘This kind of thing happens, unfortunately. It’s not your fault, it’s not the surgeon’s fault’ then that person is happy and does not think less of anyone. You redo the surgery and the patient gets over the entire experience. They are able to move on; they are happy and happy with you!”

Take the high road…

Our anonymous surgeon notes, “You have missed the chance to be your best self. You could have said, ‘I wasn’t there but it looks like your first surgeon did a fine job. I’m sorry that it didn’t turn out well.’ Even if you hate the other surgeon and he or she has undermined you in the past, this approach helps your patient (this is why we all went into medicine to begin with) and helps you as well. You and your patient will be happy.”

“Believe me, if you talk negatively about the other surgeon, then you will end up with a dissatisfied patient—who is now yours—and you will have to spend every office visit going over and over what happened/why the other doctor messed up.”

And the cherry on top?

“Don’t forget…if you go down this road then the patient might sue the first surgeon and you will get called to court.  You might end up as a defendant as well”

“So, check your ego at the door and help your patients and yourself!”


Elizabeth Hofheinz

Two time winner of the MORE award Ms. Hofheinz was the first writer employed by Orthopedics This Week. The MORE award is granted annually by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to recognize excellence in journalism. Ms. Hofheinz is currently the Director of Communications for Ortho Spine Partners (OSP) and resides in New Orleans, Louisiana with her entrepreneur husband and delightful daughter.

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