Surgeons are high performance athletes and therefore require physical and mental training as well as coaching.
On the football field you have a defense and attack to win a game, and this is led by an on field leader the captain. The overall co-ordination and management of the team comes from the ‘manager/coach’. In the operating theatre you have the surgeon (leader/captain), scrub and scout nurse and assistant who are team mates during the operation. The co-ordination of the theatre is by the theatre manager of the day. But who manages the actual operation is the captain. The surgeon is the captain and coach.
To prepare for a game, the team trains on the training track under the guidance of the captain and coach. Tactics and set up is prepared for the weekends game. To prepare for surgery the surgeon books the surgery, discusses with the patient the process and executes the operation in his/her mind prior to the day of surgery. Any necessary equipment for the operation is organised at the hospital or brought to the hospital.
To prepare for a season and become a sporting player takes years of training from a young age, at junior and senior level and skill development with coaching and specific physical and tactical training during a pre-season for the upcoming season. For a surgeon, you start in medical school, progress to internship and then surgical training which is an apprenticeship-based training to develop surgical skills for procedures over at least 9 years and thousands of operations.
What makes an athlete stand out from the crowd or a surgeon stand out from the crowd?
An athlete is in peak physical condition and the only thing that differentiates superstardom and success are the one percenters, such as mental strength, sacrifice, consistency, performance under pressure and stress management.
For a surgeon the reverse is true, surgeons are natural stress handlers as it takes a lot of mental fortitude to deal with an intra-operative complication that can be life threatening and hours of concentration during operations even in the middle of the night. Athletes don’t compete at 0200 but a surgeon does if required for emergency surgery. Could the difference between great and average surgeons be the physical performance? I know a lot of excellent surgeons that trained me, and I would be happy for them to operate on my loved ones, but would they be even better if they were physically fit. Many surgeons are not in optimal physical condition, and I was guilty of this for a period of time as I was adjusting to having a new born and setting up a private practice.
I do believe that as a surgeon because our work is largely physical and all physical when operating we should be treating our bodies and mind like a high-performance athlete. Athletes train weekly, monitor their diet, meditate and prepare.
That means paying attention to diet, exercising, being in the right mind space and perhaps having a coach or mentor.
Athletes and sports figures have their own gymnasium, sporting equipment and shoes. Surgeons on the other hand don’t always operate in the same hospital we rely on hospital equipment and this is one area, having your own equipment consistently operating with the same team will make us more efficient and ultimately better surgeons.
While athletes have personal coaches or team managers, surgeons don’t really have anyone. This is a critical difference and I will address in another article. But surgeons don’t have the equivalent of a coach or manager.
Dr Jack Zoumaras Opinion
This is my opinion only, but if do believe the physical labor of surgery warrants seeing oneself as an athlete that needs to be in peak physical condition. Since I have been training with a personal trainer (acero series) I feel fitter, less tired and perform the physical labor of surgery more seamlessly. During a long case it is the mental energy of concentration and problem solving that I feel not the physical tiredness of standing on your feet all day and the biggest change is the recovery. At the end of a case or surgical list I no longer feel physically exhausted, as my body is training and training for surgery, much like an athlete trains for sport.
Keys to gain that extra 1 percent as a surgeon
This is where as a surgeon you can get into bad eating habits with the crazy hours that one works and the fact sometimes lunch does not come or comes after 3pm. The easy thing to eat in these circumstances are fast food, crisps and processed food. The important thing is to take diet seriously, eat in moderation and take a 20-minute dedicated break during a surgical list for lunch. This takes planning and discipline. You can plan for meal breaks, organise healthy balanced meals and don’t indulge just because you finished late or had no lunch break. All surgeons have the discipline and planning skills but need to apply this to their diet.
Standing up for 8 hours a day 3 days a week despite being physical labor does not constitute exercise. In fact if we see this surgery as our performance then we can prepare physically for it. In peak physical condition performing 24 hours of operating per week is seamless and allows the surgeon to focus on the procedure on hand rather than be frustrated with physical tiredness, especially when the adrenaline of the operation ends. Putting aside 30-45 minutes 2-3 times a week at a gym or park can be crucial to boosting your fitness.
As surgery is stressful and after surgery we still care for patients as well as see new patients and run a business, down time can be hard to come by and almost impossible. It is important to meditate or be in tune with peacefulness to perform. This is true of everybody. Whether you are religious, spiritual or meditate you just need an outlet to reflect, re focus and just simply tune out that is personal.
Recovery and Rest:
In any profession it is important to rest the body and the mind. While meditation or praying can help the mind the body needs to physically rest also. That means feet up after surgery, having some hours of physical rest and enough sleep to recover from the days operating. A minimum of 7 hours sleep is ideal, but any less than 6 hours results in tiredness and fatigue the next day. Being fit and eating well enables you to get less sleep but ideally all three factors working for you results is a supreme feeling and performance.
The following is a table of key differences between your average athlete and surgeon (+++ represents outstanding, ++ good, + pass, - neutral/non-existent
Similarities and Key Differences Between Athlete and Surgeon