American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2019 Olga N. Jonasson Lecture

Recapturing the Joy of Surgery—Revisited

Carol Scott-Conner, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS, MAMSE

When I delivered the Olga N. Jonasson Lecture in October 2019, none of us could have foreseen the events of the subsequent years. Now, in February 2021, we dare to hope that vaccines and science will deliver us from the deadly peril of the COVID-19 pandemic. So much has changed, that I wondered if the message of my lecture was still relevant. I believe that it is even more important now, as we pause to catch our breath after a truly nightmarish year.

This lecture is about capturing and rediscovering the joy inherent in the practice of surgery. It outlines and acknowledges the forces that lead to burnout, and then offers strategies for developing resilience and returning to joy. It is about fighting moral injury, avoiding the "second victim syndrome" when things go wrong, and returning to the fundamental aspects of our chosen vocation—those elements that drew many of us to the practice of surgery in the first place.

Our interventions as surgeons forever change lives—not just those of our patients, but also their families. Sometimes we affect the very fabric of a community. We have seen this in surgeons who have taken on public health roles or used their critical care skills during the COVID-19 crisis. We need to fight back vigorously, both individually and collectively, against the forces that would stifle our sense of wonder and reduce us to mere technicians. We stand—you stand—at the intersection between disease and wellness, offering if not cure, at least significant improvement. In this lecture, I remind all of us to take joy in that.