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Archive August 2017 XVIII, No. 8

Behind Closed Doors: Know Any Good Surgeons?

Only a surgical nurse knows who the real 5-star docs are.

Paula Watkins

Paula Watkins, RN, CNOR


4 gold stars

That surgeon with the ★★★★★-rating on the Top Docs website? We nurses and techs who work alongside him in the OR day in and day out know better. Oh boy, do we ever! We know what the online ratings like and that are driven by data on surgeon performance can't tell you about doctors. Such as:

  • Are they respectful of the tissue they're working on — or do they go in like gangbusters and just start cutting and frying?
  • How do they treat their patients at the bedside in pre-op? Do they protect the dignity and privacy of the unconscious?
  • How do they treat the people who work side-by-side with them? Even if a surgeon has the hands of God, he gets ★in my book if he has a heart of stone.

I have an idea for a surgeon scorecard that would be like an Angie's List for surgeons. I'd need the input of all my loyal readers in every hospital, surgery center and physician's office from sea to shining sea. We'd shoot from the hip and pull no punches when rating docs.

★★★★★ for "Dr. Always Gets the Appendix," who works in record time and makes incisions so small you can barely see them.

★ for "Dr. Does This Look Like an Appendix?" who makes multiple incisions and takes 2 hours just getting into the abdomen to look for the appendix.

★★★★★ for "Dr. Arthritic Knee Cured," who never had an infection and measures the bone 3 times to correctly cut once. He always has the same team because they want to work with him.

★ for "Dr. Run Away From Him," who has kicked out every person that's ever been sentenced to work in his room. Even though running away will hurt like hell, it's better than never walking again.

The brutal honesty we're looking for might be hard at first, because we nurses won't just out and out tell you not to go to a certain doctor. We're more diplomatic than that. We might say, "Hey, I know some great physicians. Do you want some names and numbers?" Or, "Wow, surgery, I work with some of the best surgeons in town. I can get you in earlier and let him know I'm sending you." You'll know we don't approve of your pick if we ask in a concerned tone: "Oh ... you already have an appointment with him?" Or, "Hmm, well ... I've never had to work with that surgeon."

The truth hurts
I had a recent visit from my brother from Wisconsin. He'd had back surgery and told me how wonderful his surgeon was and how great he felt. He even wanted me to touch the incision site and give him my assessment. Then he asked me how people can find out how good a doctor is.

I didn't have a good answer, other than to tell him I keep a mental file on every hospital I've worked at over the last 12 years as a travel nurse. When I go back to some contract hospitals, and I do that a lot, it makes it easier to get in the flow of things. I remember names, numbers, codes, whom to speak to, how to get to, what a doctor prefers (preference cards are never right) and vendor contact information.

I also keep a list of whom I'd let operate on me, do my anesthesia, scrub and circulate. For some hospitals, there's an advance directive with instructions in large print that reads: med flight me out of here stat. OSM

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