What 3 surgeons wish patients knew about their job

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Surgeons have to deal with many challenges throughout their careers with patient care, insurance and more.

Three surgeons in orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery recently spoke with Becker's about the things they wish patients knew about their jobs.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What do you wish patients knew about your job?

Scott Daffner, MD. Professor of Orthopedics at the West Virginia University School of Medicine: There really are three things I wish patients understood better. The first is that we are really working for their best interest. If I ask a patient to stop smoking or lose weight or undergo another injection or test before we consider surgery, it is because I want to set them up to have the best possible outcome. Surgery is not always the best solution for every patient, but either way, patients need to trust the process. Secondly, patients need to understand that their outcome depends largely on their willingness and ability to take some responsibility for their own care. They need to be active participants in their own treatment and recovery. Lastly, I wish patients understood just how hard we work for them. The amount of time and effort spent obtaining pre-authorization for tests or surgeries, returning patient calls or coordinating care with multiple providers can be substantial. 

Wilson Ray, MD. Executive Vice-Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, Mo.): In a general sense, it is important for patients to understand that our primary goal is to alleviate pain and neurological dysfunction and ultimately improve our patient’s quality of life.

First and foremost, neurosurgery is not a solitary endeavor; it's a multidisciplinary effort that involves close coordination with our colleagues, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists and radiologists. Every case is a team effort, and this collaborative approach ensures the best possible outcomes.

Moreover, increasingly we work with innovative, cutting-edge technology, but even the most advanced tools are only as effective as the hands that operate them. Therefore, it's crucial for patients to recognize that the success of a surgical procedure depends on both their surgeon's expertise and their own active participation in the preoperative and postoperative phases.

Finally, it's essential for patients to understand that medicine, including spine surgery, is an evolving field. We continuously strive to enhance our knowledge and refine our techniques. Patients should be their own best advocates — ask questions, seek second opinions and be informed advocates for their own health.

In essence, I wish patients knew that we, as neurosurgeons, are committed to their well-being not just during surgery, but throughout their entire healthcare journey.

Felix Savoie, MD. Professor and Chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Tulane University School of Medicine (New Orleans, La.): I wish they knew how much time and effort all of us orthopedic surgeons put in to make sure they do well with all aspects of care, including being available 24/7. I say prayers for all of them each morning and worry about them each night. I also wish they were able to understand how much insurance companies deny care and make it difficult to do the right thing. Lastly, I also wish they knew that almost all the payments on their care go to hospitals and ancillary services and very little comes to me; my reward is not the payment but the smile on their face when they get well. 

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