By Amira Hanis Amir
I was a second year medical student and had a few free weeks of my summer in 2019, so I decided to do a three-week elective in Ireland. The first day started with a four-hour clinic. Just before the clinic ended, the registrar asked if I wanted to join the team in theatre. Going into theatre was such an exciting thought but I knew little of what was waiting for me there.
Forty-five minutes were spent as I was running around the hospital like a lunatic, trying to find the changing room. From opening every floor janitor’s room thinking that the scrubs had to be in there and to trying to decode a very securely locked room whilst being watched by three porters thinking it was the door to theatre. I finally found Theatre 7, half an hour late. I should have just given up on finding the theatre when I could but I had embarrassed myself so much in efforts to find that room that I persisted and joined the team anyway despite being late. Better late than never, right?
So many things went through my head at once in the empty anaesthetic room; will I be okay? Will I have that postural hypotension that surgeons talk about? Will I faint when seeing the incision or blood? How long will this surgery take? Putting all daunting thoughts aside, I walked into the theatre past the anaesthetic room and ‘AMAZING COOL!’ was the only thing in my head. There was so much going on! I knew from talking to the registrar in clinic earlier that morning that the case was a PCI renal stone removal. There were at least 10 people in that room. I quickly introduced myself to the theatre nurse and blocked everyone out, refusing to make any sort of eye contact with anyone; the surgeons to be specific. Well, if I had actually paid attention, one of them was actually trying to eye signal me to put the lead suit on but since I refused to look at him, he had to call me out and then everyone, I mean everyone, noticed me. Embarrassed, I quickly dashed out for the lead suit.
There were two things that I didn’t realise. First, the fact that there are sizes to lead suits, and secondly, I didn’t know how to put them on. THANK GOD, one of the porters who saw me trying to decode the locked room passed by and kindly helped me out. He even pointed out the best door to get into the theatre again without irritating the surgeons. I so needed that! Shout out to Barry! I made a grand entrance of myself once again when the theatre door ‘whoosh’ opened, unperturbed by my stealth attempt at walking in. The consultant (aka attending) quickly realised that there’s a lamb in the room and he went, “Ahh, a medical student.” Here’s how the rest of the conversation went.
Amira: Dear Mother Earth, swallow me now!- quietly, of course
Consultant: Give me four types of kidney stones.
Two anaesthetists behind the curtains widened their eyes at me whilst giving me that hand-across-neck gesture signalling death.
Amira: I am not sure, sir (I was a second year medical student, we had not started on Urology then)
Consultant: Do you know what we are doing?
Amira: Uhh, yes. You are removing stones from the kidney, sir.
Consultant: Elaborate please.
I was cold and clammy at this point.
Amira: I don’t know sir.
He then proceeded to briefly explain the procedure and continued,
“What is the best book for Urology, Amira?”
Amira: I am not sure.
Consultant: The Oxford Clinical Medicine Handbook will do you good. You see those pockets on your scrubs? Fill them with the book, a notebook and a pen the next time you come in here so that you can actually learn something and not waste your time standing there.
I turned tomato red.
Consultant: What year are you in ?
Amira: Second, sir
He looked at me sort of apologetically and left me alone then. Ten minutes later, I quietly turned around, walked out and tried not to cry out of humiliation.
To have at least 15 people watching me being grilled like that, that Monday was unquestionably the most embarrassing day of my life. However, it is undeniable that learning is best through experience. I decided to not be dispirited by my first day and to take up every piece of advice I got that Monday, (that was only after venting out everything to my mom over dinner) learn from my mistakes and do better in the coming days. I realised very soon that things actually got better and I learnt a lot of things more effectively by just promising myself after each day that I would do better the following day.
The things I learnt quickly the first week into my placement include the fact that theatre nurses are God-sent angels if you make the effort to introduce yourself, be nice and humble! From making sure you’ve eaten prior to a case, to fixing your masks when you’ve gowned up, to teaching you something about the next surgical case; they are truly the best! I also gathered that being early gives you time to look up the cases for the day and read them up before entering the theatre. This saves you from being totally clueless of what is going on and will actually have an enjoyable and fruitful theatre experience. Lastly, I have learnt to always be an enthusiastic learner! Yes, 8/10 of the things that you are asked you probably don’t know at the top of your head but hey, you’re a student with a capital ‘S’! You are learning and you have every excuse to not know most of the things- am I right?? Chase not just the doctors for knowledge but find time to chat with the scrub nurse, the theatre technician and the porters and you will be amazed at how much they will be able to tell you. Everyone loves to share their experience and knowledge if you are simply humble and polite enough to give them your best smile, introduce yourself and ask!
Dwelling on a bad experience will hinder you from effective learning. It is important to appreciate that learning is a curve and you don’t have to know everything in a day. Simply, keep your chin up and try better tomorrow. Believe me when I say that surgeons do notice your enthusiasm and perseverance. Like myself, after nearly a week full of grilling, the consultant cheerfully side-hugged me and said “You’re still here! You are so good. Now, tell me the risk factors for renal cell carcinoma.” It was a humiliating experience then but when I think about it now, it was truly the best experience I have ever had. One humiliating experience in theatre, I am now an aspiring surgeon! – in sha allah (God Willing)
Amira Hanis Amir is a fourth-year medical student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. She grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and attended INTO, St. George’s University of London where she completed her International Foundation in Medical, Biomedical and Health Sciences. Amira is enthusiastic about a future in surgery following her elective placement in The Mater Hospital in Ireland. She is the second eldest of five girls and has deep passion for fashion, cooking (hence, very skilled at meal prepping) and traveling. You can find her on Instagram at @amiraamir.17
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.