Ten Essential Lessons from a Senior Surgical Mentor

05 Sep 2019

By Jaime D. Lewis

One of the privileges that comes with working in academic medicine is caring for mentors and colleagues, those who make it their mission to pass along the wisdom and art of medicine. A recent experience caring for a mentor led me to reflect on lessons shared by this individual that have shaped my practice.

  1. There’s a lot of data out there and it’s impossible to know it all. This is absolutely okay! There are >390,000 “breast cancer” articles in PubMed. Learn to identify what may impact your practice, what is key for residents and medical students to know, and for patients to understand. Be able to communicate this information such that others can understand your message.
  2. Know the history of the management of the disease process. Be intimately familiar with the groundbreaking studies that have changed the course of clinical care. Question their ongoing validity as these questions will guide future advances.
  3. While the results of clinical trials apply to “homogenous” groups of patients, each one of these patients is unique. Get to know your patients and how their diagnosis impacts them personally. Guide the course of care that is most appropriate for each individual.
  4. Treat and teach medical students and residents well. They deserve the opportunity to learn, for each of us was once in their shoes. And one day they will be our referring physicians and then our own providers.
  5. None of us is immune from disease and we too must be vigilant and advocates for our own health. If something is wrong, seek care. Each of us must be healthy and strong to serve our purposes.
  6. No matter the circumstances, celebrate life and living. Perhaps do this with a going away party before undergoing bilateral mastectomies!
  7. There should be music in the operating room. Music can elevate the spirits and mood of the room. It can bring energy to the process. The notes can calm the anxieties and frustrations.
  8. Hold your patient’s hand as they go to sleep – it’s okay to be human. Your patient may not remember, but you will recall the tightness of their grip as they drift off knowing they have entrusted all of their care to you, their surgeon.
  9. Live to fight another day. Not all of your battles must be won before sundown.
  10. You must always have hope.

Some days these lessons are easier to remember than others.

Thank you to those who have taught and mentored me and helped me become the surgeon I am today. It is an honor and a privilege to now pass along your lessons.

Jaime D. Lewis, MD, FACS, practices breast surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she also completed her general surgery residency. After residency, she spent a year in Tampa, Florida training in breast surgical oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center. Dr. Lewis is committed to improving wellness and professional development opportunities of the medical students and residents with whom she is privileged to work. Outside of the hospital, she enjoys running and spending time with her family. You can find her on twitter at @JaimeDLewisMD.


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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *