Published in American Urological Association News - October 2016

reprinted with permission in AAOS Now - September 2016

Reprinted with permission from AUANews, volume 21, issue 10, 2016; © American Urological Association 2016.


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The Need for Surgeons to Have Flexibility

As surgeons, we know the importance of precision.

We are exact.

We are meticulous.

And we are this way because a misstep could cause serious, irreversible injury.

But that obsessive compulsiveness does not need to permeate every aspect of our world.

By learning to master the art of mental and emotional flexibility, we can receive more happiness and joy from our normally rigid practices and lives.

The palm tree and the surgeon

I live in San Diego, your host city for the Annual Meeting AUA 2016, where the streets are littered with palm trees—a universal beacon of ocean-side tranquility. Most of the time, these trees stand firm and tall, unwilling to waiver to light breezes coming in off the Pacific.

However, when a storm hits, the palm tree ceases being rigid—it flexes in strong winds to avoid being uprooted or splintered. After the storm, the palm stands tall again.

Surgeons are rooted in rigid principles that allow them to stand tall in the operating room. But like the palm tree, we must learn to practice flexibility when the situation calls for it in order to avoid becoming uprooted or damaged.

Surgeons thrive in the routine, in the regimented.

But life is neither routine nor regimented, and when something challenges our routine, it’s easy for us to become angry or frustrated.

That’s what makes flexibility so important.

Flexibility is the mechanism that allows us to weather storms of the unexpected, whether they arise in the workplace or elsewhere. Flexibility lets us bend with the wind like a palm tree, instead of standing rigidly and dangerously in opposition to it.

To help you become more comfortable with mental and emotional flexibility, try practicing some of these strategies:

Stray from your daily routine on your downtime

If you always go to Starbucks on the way to the hospital, take yourself to a different java house. Always go to the gym on your way home? – skip the treadmill and go see a movie.

Is your workout routine perhaps boring?  Change it up. Start intentionally injecting variety into your life and see how good it feels to stray from the norm.

Practice an open mind

Start being more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Avoid a rigid, one-sided thought process.

Embrace the random

When something unexpected emerges in your day, don’t stew over it. Embrace it as a unique opportunity.

Incorporate movement and exercise

Feeling stressed or worn out? – get out of the office and go for a brief walk. Doing so will help you cultivate clearer, more positive thought patterns.[1]

Learn to embrace and practice flexibility. You’ll bend rather than break beneath the pressure that is a surgeon’s life.  

Stay Well!


              [1] Bartels, L.: “10 Brain Tips to Teach and Learn.” SharpBrains. Web. Accessed 4 June 2016. Available at