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Home Our Missions Mission of Education The Making of a Tzu Chi Surgeon

The Making of a Tzu Chi Surgeon

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The Making of a Tzu Chi Surgeon
A Tzu Chi exclusive
simulated surgery training course: days 1 and 2
A cadaver’s busy new life: days 3 and 4
Retrospect—end of day 4
All Pages
On the operating table he lies, willingly enduring the onslaught of scalpels.
Under surgical lights she stands, making each incision with care and respect.
She helps him fulfill a last dream of devotion; he helps her hone surgical skills and cultivate compassion.
His selflessness guides her in the long and arduous journey of becoming a competent and compassionate surgeon.
It is a long and challenging journey that every medical student must travel.
And Tzu Chi is helping make it easier for them.


A group of seasoned surgeons reminisced about their humble and often pathetic rookie years. In operating rooms, they had frequently performed menial tasks for senior surgeons. Back then, their only job was often helping set a retractor, sponging blood away, clipping off a suture after the surgeon had knotted it, and some such minor tasks. The group savored the moment when they were finally allowed to close an incision, something enough to keep them excited for a while.

This glacial pace of a surgeon’s training has been practiced for decades in most teaching hospitals. They do so because too much is at stake. The patient’s life hangs in the balance. In an operation, any task of even the slightest significance is handled with such care that a novice is rarely given the chance to perform it.

Traditionally, trainee surgeons start out by using just their eyes and minds, not their hands. They watch how their teacher surgeons do it, and then they hope they will remember it later.

Therefore, it is a long time before the surgeon has to face the moment of truth, when he himself will hold the scalpel and cut into a patient.

They long for this precious hands-on experience, and yet they dread it at the same time. “Doctor, I’m worried sick about tomorrow’s surgery—my first,” said the patient. “I know how you feel—it’s my first, too,” replied the surgeon. Though fictitious, this joke shows how frightening a surgeon’s first incision must be.

Unfortunately, at most medical facilities, such first incisions—always unskilled, clumsy, and sometimes incorrect—are made on real patients, who, in effect, become guinea pigs for neophyte doctors to practice and make mistakes on. Hardly fair or even humane, this is nevertheless common practice everywhere, perhaps because no better way is widely available.

Dr. Chen Fu-ming (陳福民), a retired gastrointestinal surgeon in Cleveland, Ohio, and a volunteer with the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), recalled his first solo incision after he had opened his own private practice. It was an appendectomy, a minor procedure. “Up till that time,” Chen said, “I had always performed surgery under the supervision of a senior surgeon, and I had never felt much anxiety. However, once I was on my own and my fallback security net was gone, I was so scared by such a minor procedure that I can still feel my fear vividly 30 years later.”

Even an experienced surgeon faces each operation with utmost care and welcomes an opportunity to practice the operation ahead of time. Dr. Li Ming-zhe (李明哲), head of surgical oncology at the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Center, once had a major operation scheduled. He reviewed related medical literature and, with his eyes closed, did the surgery in his head. He repeated this drill nightly for a week before he actually operated on the patient. Though he did the mental drill cheerfully, that hardly seemed an ideal way.

Fortunately, Tzu Chi has found a better way.


 

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