The 2014 RAS-ACS
annual essay contest:
A chosen path
by Rebecca Hoffman, MD
This can’t be happening, I thought. We are 30 years old. I am a surgical resident interested in oncology, for God’s sake. But somehow there
I was, staring at our new reality—a magnetic resonance imaging test result showing a large mass
lesion in the right temporal lobe of my husband’s
brain, nearly obliterating his ventricles, and lighting
up the scan like a solar flare.
Although I had confidently walked cancer patients
through their upcoming procedure many times
before, assuring them that this fate was not their
fault, resecting their disease, and caring for them in
the postoperative period, I was suddenly paralyzed.
I was no longer a surgical resident who thought she
knew what it meant for patients and families to carry
a diagnosis of cancer, but a wife who was about to
live it every day by her husband’s side.
But surprisingly, it wasn’t then that I wanted to quit.
I’d wanted to quit during my first three years of residency for less dramatic reasons.
Like the first 24-hour call shift of my internship.
My phone rang so frequently that its battery died by
hour 12. I frantically called my husband. “Bring my
charger to the hospital!” As he pulled up to the front
of the hospital, I lingered at the car window, tears welling in my eyes. “Take me home with you,” I uttered,
Like the first time I thought I’d really hurt someone.
As a young intern, I was convinced that my first independent decision—to give a patient 10mg of Lasix—was
sure to push him into end-stage renal disease. Because
of an ever-so-slight creatinine bump, I spent my post-call day in tears. How could I have chosen a career so
fraught with worry, guilt, and complications?
Like when I have missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s and holidays and weddings and
birthdays, and when I have said I’d be home for dinner but never made it. Why do I sacrifice my life for
But I didn’t quit at any of those moments. And
when quitting should have been my first thought—
betrayed by the very field I have surrendered my life
to studying—I didn’t think twice. Overcoming emotional adversity prepared me for the worst moment in
my life and prepares me to handle the worst moments
of my patients’ lives.
Surgery chose me. I know this because I tried hard
to like other specialties—afraid of those things that
made me want to quit. But because surgery chose
me, I feel a duty to fulfill my destiny—to persevere
because maybe I, like all of us in this most difficult
of professions, was chosen for a reason. I don’t quit
because each experience that makes me want to
quit seems to be followed by a better reason to stay.
Because of this path that I continue down, I am a better surgeon to my patients, a better wife to my husband, and a stronger role model to the others whom
surgery has chosen.