This Is the Hardest Thing About Being a Neurosurgeon

Many people see my job as depressing.

Courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Courtesy of Africa Studio/Shutterstock

How can I justify tolerating this seemingly depressing job?… Believe it or not, I have experienced at least one personal upside to seeing so much go so wrong. It sounds a bit hackneyed, but I have to admit that I have developed a distinct appreciation for everyday life. For many people, this requires some sort of personal near-death experience. You hear about these revelations all the time, about how someone didn’t appreciate their life until they almost lost it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to borrow from everyone else’s experience. I’ve seen people in every state of neurological decline and I’ve seen death, over and over again. And this makes me feel lucky about life, every day.

Although I have found a way to put a positive spin on the more depressing aspects of neurosurgery, the frequent exposure to tragedy does come with some threat of professional peril as I’ve seen in more than a few of my colleagues. Maintaining an emotional resilience requires the right degree of professional detachment: you don’t want to compromise your sense of empathy, but you don’t want to risk drowning in it either.

Excerpted from Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik, MD with permission from the author.

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