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  • Success in Spite of Evaluation
  • Priya Chopra

I was invited to a meeting with three surgeons, including the General Surgery program director. No reason was given for the meeting. The note was given to me by my senior resident. He had no idea what the meeting was about. Now two months into general surgery residency, I was a month or so into Vascular rotation. I was post call, had 2 admissions and ORs were still running, but I scrubbed out and headed to the office tower. I thought the meeting was a standard check-in partway through the rotation.

I was ushered into the office and was politely greeted by the doctors. I remember feeling like this was a residency interview. One surgeon quickly took over the reins of the meeting. He was the older, more revered, slightly cranky surgeon who was known for teaching by humiliation. They asked me how I 'liked' my surgery rotation so far. I replied that yes, I did enjoy it. I stated that it was a bit difficult managing OR and patient volumes combined with the 18 on-call shifts I had done in the month previous. They asked if I had been studying for my cases in the OR. I reflected on the OR one day earlier, when they had asked me to describe the steps in a vascular groin dissection. Unfortunately, between exhaustion, fear of saying something incorrect, and [End Page 206] sheer intimidation, it all came out as "umm, possibly," and "kind of." Certainly not the definitive answer they had expected. I hadn't yet learned the art of bull-shitting my way through a question by answering with full confidence and arrogance. Even if the answer was incorrect, presented in this manner, often one could get away with it.

I finally responded to their question by stating that I had studied up on vascular a few weeks ago before the rotation had begun. The next question caught me off guard and left me astonished. The older surgeon asked if I was married, engaged or dating anyone. After a pause which felt like an eternity, I responded by saying that I was not currently involved in any type of relationship. He was so elated, and he exclaimed, "That's great because those things take away from the capabilities of female residents!" The other two doctors joined in with his chuckle, and I was then told that I needed to read up more for cases. The meeting was then over. I left and headed straight to the washroom. This was my haven, only the pager could bother me there. I cried, almost vomited, cleaned myself up and returned to the OR.

My next rotation was scheduled at another hospital where the Chairman of the Department of Surgery and the famed transplant team awaited me. On arrival at my new rotation, I met with the Chairman. He was a kind but stern old-school surgeon with traditional values. He stood tall and even with his advanced age, his red hair shone brightly in the glaring hospital lighting. I was told that I needed remediation after my last rotation, where the surgeons felt "they weren't sure if I was meant for general surgery." I wondered if that translated to the fact that I was a woman of colour and didn't fit with their stereotypes. This Department of Surgery could certainly use at least one female staff or even a single person of non-Caucasian descent—it was 1996 after all! I told myself there wasn't any point in assuming the worst and trod on. The ORs were not fun at all. The senior transplant surgeon was very famous—he was very kind to the medical students and his patients loved him. He taught only by identifying mistakes in the OR. The way he pointed out the mistake was by yelling, hitting, cauterizing or head-butting the operating surgeon. I was much shorter than him, so I was happy that the last option was not possible. I left that rotation with only one or two cautery burns on my hands, and I felt very fortunate to have learned so much from him...


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pp. 206-209
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