Why I Am Thankful to be a Hand Surgeon

The 2016 U.S. presidential election “season” lasted 596 days. Whatever your political views, we can all agree that is a long time to spend dwelling on differences and what is wrong with our country. In light of the awkward transition from election season to the holiday season, I would like to share a few reasons why I am thankful to be a hand surgeon. Feel free to add your own reasons in the comment section!

1. Hand surgeons treat all ages and all walks of life.

As the recent election has shown us, Americans are increasingly divided into enclaves (both physical and virtual) that look, think, worship, and spend money like they do. Hand surgeons, however, are fortunate to interact with a wide variety of people every day. My favorite line to hear from a patient is “Doc, my hands are really important to me because I am a (insert any profession).” I have never been able to figure out what a person could do for a living that would make their hands unimportant! My practice has enabled me to help infants through the elderly, rabbis and atheists, CEOs and homeless children. And I have learned that the surest path to trouble is to treat any of these patients differently. Our profession demands that we relate to each patient, no matter how different they are from ourselves, and treat them to the best of our ability. You probably do this every day without giving it much thought, but it is a true gift that we should savor.

2. Hand surgery is still full of puzzles. 

Not to disparage our colleagues in general orthopaedics, but how many surprises are there in a primary total hip replacement? In my clinic, a new patient labeled “Eval shoulder pain” could be anything from a football player with a recent dislocation to a baby with Sprengel’s deformity. My practice is constantly full of surprises. There are diagnostic dilemmas in clinic, and anatomic variations in the operating room. Every brachial plexus exploration teaches me more about the configurations those nerves can assume. The ASSH listserv abounds with new questions that surgeons with many years of experience encounter every day. And aside from the daily puzzles of clinical life, there are still big research questions to be answered in the field of hand surgery. How can we improve nerve regeneration? Will there someday be a biologic solution to small joint osteoarthritis? Is there a better way to fix a flexor tendon? It is exciting to ponder the opportunities for the advancement of our field.

3. Hand surgeons make the best colleagues.

On medical school rotations, I was struck by how different the personalities were for each medical and surgical specialty. I wondered, do the groups self-select, or does practicing a specialty gradually morph you into a certain type of person? While I’m still not sure where I stand on this “nature versus nurture” debate, I am sure that I have found my type in the field of hand surgery. Hand surgeons are gleefully nerdy – we revel in the minutia of the extensor apparatus anatomy and the kinematics of the wrist. We are perfectionists – I often tell my residents the true test to get into the ASSH is how elaborately you construct your postoperative dressings. But most importantly, we are giving – our small society is robust with volunteers, philanthropy, and surgical missions. When I ask a hand surgeon colleague for advice, I am sure to get a thoughtful answer, whether they are a good friend or a passing acquaintance.  So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for my geeky, obsessive, generous hand surgeon colleagues.

Article written by:

Dr. Andrea Bauer is a pediatric hand surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital. She used to have hobbies, but now she has a 3-year-old son named Topher. At work, she enjoys thinking through complex problems like congenital hand differences and brachial plexus birth palsy. At home, she enjoys trips to the playground and making pancakes on Sunday mornings.

Join the discussion

  1. Maxim Horwitz

    There are constant opportunities to innovate without ruthlessly experimenting or being arrogant.
    No two days are the same especially in congenital.
    Finally we get to help people reurn to their favourite sports and hobbies and nothing is more glorious then seeing a hand thatyou treated play a trombone, climb an ice wall or simply just hold and ice cream cone for the 1st time.

  2. Martha Holley

    You are so right! We are truly blessed to work with such a diverse population! It is such a privilege to see someone in need and know that we can help. I cannot describe the reward in seeing the joy on someones face when they tell me they could zip their pants without help or play catch with their son.

  3. Ann Van heest

    Andy: Thank you for remind us of the importance of gratitude. You have reminded me of three reasons why to be thankful to be a hand surgeon, and it helps me reflect on my own reasons why I am thankful for my career as well. Best wishes, Ann Van Heest

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