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Why Colorectal Surgery?

Trying to figure out what kind of doctor you should become? Wondering which specialty you should choose? Then SheMD's Why Specialty Series is perfect for you! We're bringing you female physicians sharing WHY they chose their specialty. Today's post is on why Dr. King-Mullins chose colorectal surgery and why it is a great field.

When people ask me why I chose colorectal surgery, the honest answer is it chose me. My “happenstance” path to colorectal started before I even began medical school, unbeknownst so me. In my personal statement for medical school application, I wrote about wanting to pursue Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR). I wanted to “help patients help themselves.”

During my first year of medical school, I hated anatomy.

Well, let’s just say I really didn’t like it. The smell in the lab and the thought of manipulating bodies just didn’t sit well with me. Even though these people blessed us with the ability to learn from them by donating their bodies to science, it just felt weird. Fast forward to second year when I was assigned a mentor to help me through my clinical years. Her specialty was internal medicine. During our first meeting, she asked me if I had decided on a specialty. I wasn’t too sure about PMR and my reply was, “I’m not quite sure what I want to do, but I know I don’t want to do surgery.” She then told me “be careful what you say, because you never know." At that point, all I "knew" about surgeons was that they were all "mean, older white men with God complexes".

When I received my third year clinical rotation schedule, I was excited to see that I had surgery first- so I could get it over with.

To be honest, I was terrified. I started on one of the hardest rotations, the trauma service at Grady Memorial Hospital. Who was the attending making rounds that first week? One of the “godfathers of trauma.” I watched my intern break into tears on rounds that week. Also, there was a rumor that an intern rotating at another hospital was going to quit. Yes, this confirmed it. Surgery was not for me.

Oh, but it was! I came to enjoy waking up at 4:30 am to pre- round with the other students on my team. We worked well together and all of us actually ended up in surgery: colorectal, general, orthopedic, and transplant. I looked forward to scrubbing in on surgeries and I appreciated the anatomy. I didn’t even mind doing the rectal exam on the trauma alert.

Every day (and night) brought something new and exciting. No two patients were alike. The unknown was spellbinding.

Every rotation that followed surgery paled in comparison, no matter how hard I tried to not drink the surgery “kool aid.” I’m also a woman, so how would I match? I always thought you had to know well in advance if you wanted to do surgery and start shadowing surgeons and rubbing elbows in advance. I was late to the game, would I need to take a year or two off for research? How will I fit in and how will I have a family in the future? In the end, no matter how I tried to talk myself out of it, none of that mattered.

I made it through third year with no other specialty even in a close second. I had decided to be a trauma surgeon. I matched in general surgery back at home in Orlando at a level 1 trauma center. I was excited, but the butterflies were at it again. No other African-American female had graduated from the program. Being home near family was also nice, and a much-needed support system. Well, my plan failed me again, but it ended up being all for the better.

After six months of residency, it was clear that I no longer wanted to do trauma surgery. But what would I do instead?

Nothing else really jumped out at me. I ruled out most specialties because there was something associated with them that I just didn’t want to deal with. Vascular? No, too many feet. Surgical oncology? Sure, as long as I don’t have to deal with the pancreas. Pediatric surgery? Only if we could take abusive parents out of the equation. Colorectal? Gross, I mean what is that? That’s a specialty?

My first experience with colorectal was as a junior resident in my second year. Nope, not for me either. Clinic, clinic, clinic… flex sigs in the clinic… colonoscopies in Endo…anorectal cases at the outpatient center. I never made it into the big cases. So, exactly what type of surgeries do they perform?

Rotating on the colorectal service again as a senior resident in my fourth year brought it all together.

This time I did it all: office, procedures in the office, colonoscopies, colectomies, APRs, and outpatient anorectal procedures. I saw the patients pre-operatively, performed their surgery and saw them post-operatively. Patients were young, old, rich, and poor.

Colorectal disease knows no age, race, gender, or salary. There is no better feeling than to tell someone you have removed all of their cancer or that reversing their stoma was a success.

We were often times in a position to help the patient help themselves, via patient education, outreach, and screening; which is exactly what I wanted to do from the very beginning!

Here I am, five and a half years in, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My practice is a great mix of the private practice feel, teaching colorectal fellows, and participating in research. The field is ever-changing, and that’s okay, because it keeps things exciting!

Ultimately, I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

Colorectal surgery chose me.

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