Training to perform surgery is a long and winding road

Sorcha Ni Dhubhghaill

Posted: Saturday, October 7, 2017

THE French have an expression that says Lever le nez du guidon. It’s perhaps unsurprising that the country that gave us Le Tour de France also gave us this gem, but for me it truly captures the spirit of the ESCRS summer meeting.

Literally translated, it means “To raise your nose from the handlebars”, and it couldn’t be more visually representative of its figurative meaning, which is to take a moment to pause and reflect on a situation that you are actively involved in. Taking a step back, as it were, and looking at the bigger picture. I always picture a heroic cyclist making his way through one of the gruelling mountain stages of the Tour de France. Bent deeply over his steering wheel, tirelessly chipping away metre after metre of a seemingly never-ending strip of asphalt draped like spaghetti over the French Alps. After they’ve made it around yet another hairpin turn (they are the steepest parts!) they raise up their upper body to for a brief moment to stretch their backs, glancing out to the formidable challenge still ahead, but also looking back to the road below them that they’ve already conquered.

A life in ophthalmology can feel like a mountain stage. Training to perform surgery is a long and winding road, and when you consider exams and fellowships and all the sacrifices that you make, there’s a lot more uphill than downhill, to say the least. As you are bent over the steering wheel of your career with yet another mountain to climb ahead of you, it’s important to remember to stretch your back, as it were, to take stock of what’s ahead, and take a moment to appreciate the road you’ve already travelled. You remember the first incision your trainer let you do alone, the first capsulorhexis you weren’t embarrassed by, and the first case you completed yourself even though you were so nervous that your sweat made your scrubs stick to you.

The ESCRS meeting gives you time to think and reflect, something that is often missing from our hectic clinics. The coffee breaks between sessions are there for a reason – they let you meet and chat with your peers and your idols. This will help you realise that while your goals lie further up the mountain, the hairpin turns you have conquered still lie ahead for many of your younger colleagues. Trainees flock to the meetings, and helping them to success in their wetlabs and courses can give the same sense of achievement as the first time you did it yourself. Even though I am not a trainee any more, I am still learning. We all depend on those ahead of us to show us the right way to go. We owe at least that to the riders behind us.

In other words, you don’t have to know everything before you’re allowed to share something. You’ve already made part of the journey, and others who are behind you are more than happy to hear from you. At the ESCRS this year why not try to encourage the trainees to speak up. They are the future
of the Society, and if we want the future to be bright we have to make them even better than we are.

  • Sorcha Ní Dhubhghaill is an anterior segment surgeon and guest lecturer at Antwerp University Hospital in Belgium.