For the past few years, you have suffered from heavy menstrual cycles. At your annual examination a few months ago, your gynecologist recommended you consider a hysterectomy since all other attempts to control your symptoms conservatively have failed. Since that appointment, you have thought a great deal about her suggestion, researched the topic of hysterectomy extensively, and you think you are ready to move forward with the surgery.
You are ready to call the office and get your procedure scheduled. You are explaining all this to a friend over lunch one day, and you are surprised when she asks you how you picked your surgeon. You tell her that you didn’t really pick your surgeon; you were simply going to use the gynecologist you had been seeing the past couple of years since she seems “nice enough.” Your friend suggests that you do a little more research before simply signing on the dotted line. You appreciate the suggestion, but are completely unsure how to begin.
Things you may want to consider when choosing your surgeon include their time in practice, experience with newer technologies, the facility where they work, and their affiliation with an academic medical center. But perhaps the most important quality your surgeon possesses is the ability to put you at ease—they should be someone you can talk to. You have to be able to ask basic questions about the procedure and your postoperative course, such as:
- “What are the most common complications from this procedure?”
- “How many days will I be in the hospital?”
- “Will I have any restrictions after the surgery in terms of diet, exercise, or driving?”
- “Will my ovaries stay or be removed?”
- “Will I require hormones after the procedure?”
But you also need to be able to ask the difficult questions. As a surgeon who looks much younger than my 42 years, I find that patients frequently assume I am much less experienced than I actually am. I am very pleased when patients ask me questions about my surgical expertise. Some questions you should consider asking include the following:
- “How many of these procedures have you done?
- “How many of these procedures have you done in your career?”
- “What is your complication rate?”
- “Are you equally comfortable performing all types of hysterectomies?”
- “Do you perform laparoscopic and/or robotic surgeries?” If not, do you refer your patients to a surgeon who does?”
While experience is a wonderful quality in a surgeon, don’t discount the younger physician more recently out of training. They are frequently highly experienced in the newest technologies and have incorporated the best surgical techniques of their mentors during the course of their training into their own surgical repertoire.
Finally, you should also consider the people who work with your surgeon and who frequently make or break your surgical experience such as the physician’s practice group, nurses, and hospital personnel.
- “Who do I contact after surgery if I have questions or concerns? Who will I speak to after hours?”
- “Will there be medical students and/or residents present in the operating room? And if so, what is their role?”
- “Will you see me in the hospital every day or will it be one of your partners?”
All of the questions I have delineated should be easy for your physician to answer. In fact, your surgeon should welcome this dialogue. You should not be hesitant to ask these questions and you should be sure before you schedule surgery that you are comfortable with the answers. Remember that communication is the key to a successful physician-patient relationship. You should feel comfortable asking all of your questions before you proceed with surgery.
Dr. Susan Raine is Program Director and Vice Chair of Education at the Baylor College of Medicine Obstetrics & Gynecology