In a 2011 New Yorker article, Dr. Atul Gawande explored the idea that surgeons should consider a performance coach. Like athletes, he reasons, surgeons rely on complex physical movements to achieve their goals. Guidance and refinement by a trained eye could improve their performance.
Surgical coaching is a controversial topic (one which colleagues and I are actively investigating). But in the years following Dr. Gawande’s article, this idea opened the door to a broader concept: the “surgeon athlete.” An “athlete” is one whose performance depends on a carefully choreographed interplay between mind and body: heightened focus and anticipation along with quick decision-making and coordination. Combined with the reliance on teamwork and requisite stamina, this is wholly within the job description of a surgeon. Many surgeons are likely to find this concept silly. But our profession has imprudently encouraged surgical trainees to disregard the critical fine-tuning of their minds and bodies. We demand perfection, stamina, and encyclopedic knowledge, while discouraging the healthy habits that improve performance. Ironically, the sports world is more advanced in applying science to their training. And by ignoring this indisputable science, we are really hurting our patients. Because in order to best take care of them, we need to first take care of ourselves.