Most surgeons, especially orthopaedic surgeons, are aware of the permanent damage overuse injuries can cause. We’ve seen it in our patients, in young athletes whose careers end far too soon, and even in our own kids. We know that the data shows that performing the same activity over and over again causes injury – which means this particular kind of damage is entirely preventable.
But here’s what many surgeons don’t know: these injuries can happen to us, too. In surgery, you use the same muscles, and perform the same precise movements, over and over again – and that puts you at risk. But like patients, you can prevent these injuries with cross-training, which is a terrific way to protect your skills as a surgeon and increase the likelihood that you’ll have a long and profitable career.
As a surgeon, cross-training can look like a number of different exercises. Of course you could take up surfing, cycling, or running to improve your physical fitness. But you could also cross-train in ways only a surgeon can. For example, if you have a primarily elective practice, you could stay on a call panel for emergencies a few nights per month. Or, you could provide your knowledge and skills at a charity clinic or overseas mission every once in a while. You could take time off work to fish, sail, or bond with your family. In other words, cross-training can be just about anything that exercises another part of you – one that isn’t fulfilled when you’re practicing surgery twelve plus hours a day.
Need some additional motivation to make a change? Here are the eight key benefits of cross-training as a surgeon:
1. Injury Prevention
Injuries occur for four core reasons: inadequate recovery, biomechanical irregularities (poor techniques), improper or worn-out equipment, and imbalances caused by being a surgeon, such as disease and physical and mental exhaustion due to long hours. While your cross-training won’t do anything to address old equipment, it can improve your surgical technique, ensure a proper recovery, and maintain your optimal physical and mental health so you’re protected from the hazards associated with your career.
Of course, your main goal is to return to being a happy and successful surgeon as quickly as possible. But you know from working with your patients that rehab takes time, and requires focusing on small, attainable steps. The best option is to adopt a modified practice routine that allows you to maintain your skills through cross-training, without worsening the injuries or prolonging the recovery process.
3. Surgical Fitness
Cross-training can improve your skills as a surgeon. It can enhance your efficiency, boost surgical strength, and increase the amount of time you’re able to operate without accumulating fatigue or getting injured. As you can imagine, this changes with age / years in practice and equates to enormous benefits for your career short and long-term.
Being a surgeon requires an extraordinary amount of physical, mental, and emotional flexibility. In addition to being able to adapt to fluctuating demands in your practice and in healthcare, you also need to find a balance between competing life needs and desires. By cross-training, you increase the flexibility of your different muscles, mental skills, and emotions – which makes you a more effective surgeon.
No matter how passionate you are about surgery, there will come a time when – although you’re efficient and skilled – you’re also quite bored. Cross-training helps you to maintain your enthusiasm for surgery, so you can work harder and perform better over time. If cross-training more and working less makes your career more enjoyable, then by all means, do it. It’s better than going to work with a bad attitude.
Burnout is defined as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. Cross-training can treat or prevent this by giving you a break from your career. It gives you an opportunity for complete rest, along with a transition that provides physical, mental, and emotional recharge and recovery.
Are you sprinting in your career, running as fast as you can towards a constantly moving target? Cross-training can help you develop your physical and emotional endurance by shifting to a marathon mindset, so you’re able to thrive in a long and successful career.
Cross-training will inevitably restore much-needed balance to your life and career. In giving you time to recharge, explore other passions, and strengthen complementary skills, cross-training can help you achieve a more balanced and fulfilling career as a surgeon.
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