Power of Affirmation

12 Jul 2023

By Hemu Yeluru

“You have a future in surgery…” 

Six words that I never thought I would hear, and I never knew how badly I needed to hear before that night. 

It was 7:30 PM on a hot summer Tuesday evening on my first day of my first third year rotation: general surgery. By the luck of the draw, I got randomly assigned to cover the first 28-hour trauma call shift. I was trailing a resident on rounds when alarms blared throughout the hospital: ALPHA ALERT, ETA 5 MINUTES. The resident did a 180 and charged down the nearest stairwell; he hoisted himself up by the railings, skipping 4 stairs at a time down 6 flights. I sprinted to keep up, staying close to avoid being stranded in an unknown hallway. When we reached the ED, I stood back and studied as the trauma team danced through their well-rehearsed survey. Within minutes, we moved swiftly from the trauma bay straight to the OR. 

Little did I know, I would experience that tension another 4 times that night. We operated on patient after patient for the next 12 hours, each one seemingly sicker than the last. Despite the chaos, my attending carved out time to highlight key anatomy and explain his movements every step of the way. He tested my knowledge to the point where I was grasping for straws trying to imagine my cadaver from first-year anatomy lab. That night pushed me mentally, physically, and emotionally to a level I had never imagined. 7:15 AM, at the end of the last case, the attending shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and plainly stated: “you have a future in surgery” before turning around promptly to leave the OR. My heart raced one last time that night, as I swallowed his words, questioning if I had heard him correctly, but I knew he wasn’t one to mumble. 

That night began filled with uncertainty and dread, but I came out of it with a sense of belonging – a feeling that was unfortunately unfamiliar to me. As a first generation American, and soon-to-be first doctor amongst my extended family, my path to medicine was foreign terrain. It was not until discovering my passion for surgery did I feel at-home and supported. While self affirmation and self-confidence carried me to the doorstep of medicine, that one line of affirmation was what I needed to soar and to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to surgery. 

Medical students are often big dreamers, but it’s equally important to know that our goals are attainable, and to know that success will follow our efforts. Over the past year of medical school, I have been lucky to build a close-knit network of mentors who have encouraged me towards surgery, and I can only hope that all medical students have a similar support system in place. 

Hemu is a fourth year medical student from Fairfax, Virginia. She currently attends Eastern Virginia Medical School and is applying to general surgery residency this fall. Her clinical interests include surgical critical care, pediatric surgery, and burn surgery. In addition, Hemu is passionate about medical education, education reform, physician leadership, and tackling physician burnout. She intends to pursue a career in academic medicine where she can be closely involved with resident and medical student education, as well as further her research interests in both physician burnout and quality improvement. Outside of medicine, Hemu loves to cook, read, write, sing, and kickbox. 

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