Articles and Case Studies

Surgery: My Choice, My Story

30 Nov 2018

Dr Lily Vrtik

by Dr Lily Vrtik

plastic surgery

When I was in medical school, watching surgical procedures used to fascinate me. It was like watching hands and fingers moving in perfect harmony to some inaudible symphony.

It was mesmerising to see ‘art’ being put together in continuous motion – followed by that indescribable sense of achievement when the operation had been completed. I often thought to myself, “I want to learn how to do that”.

I applied for Basic Surgical Training back in the days when I was only one out of five female applicants within the state. It never occurred to me that my sex had anything to do with my choice. Nor my race or my ethnicity. All I knew was that I had the motivation, the tenacity and the work ethic to do the job, so I had as good a chance as any other applicant. No one discouraged me or encouraged me. I had plenty of advice from various consultants, in particular about the hard life of being a surgical registrar which lay ahead of me, but no one told me I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Surgery isn’t just a career, it’s a way of life

I made the choice to do surgery because it was a specialty that I believed in. And still do. A surgical career is not something one can do without having a passion for it. It is a vocation that consumes your time, your life and demands personal sacrifices. You’ve got to love it, or you will end up resenting it. It affects every aspect of both the professional and personal life. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it always does, and one needs to be prepared for it at all times. Surgery is not really just a career – it is a way of life.

It’s not always heroic and full of masterful accomplishments. There have been times when I wanted to walk away, or wished I was back waiting tables at the local café. There were moments when I questioned my wisdom in pursuing this lifestyle, and wondered if I would eventually collapse under the weight of everyone’s expectations, not counting my own.

Surgery is personal

Throughout my career, I’ve had to make quick clinical decisions, some not so great ones; I’ve had to follow through with bad outcomes and not breakdown with regrets, but learn from my mistakes. I’ve had to face sick patients, angry patients, and disappointed patients. The pressure of being a Surgeon comes from the fact that surgery is personal. When things go wrong, there are always plenty of factors we could blame, but ultimately, we make the decisions and we have a ‘hand’ in the outcome. Literally. The decision to operate or not to operate weighs heavily on our shoulders and can only be attested by an outcome we can’t guarantee.

Helping people to a better life

So why am I passionate about surgery? For those who know me well, I am a workaholic by choice. Initially, it was the adrenaline rush – challenging cases, major reconstructive procedures, and accomplishing the near-impossible. All of which wore off after my initial years of being a young consultant (lack of sleep wears thin very quickly with age).

But what doesn’t go away is the instant gratification of seeing your work change people’s lives, the sense of achievement looking at what you have created. And most of all, the self-worth of knowing you’ve made a difference. For me, it became an addiction to the immense sense of self-satisfaction from helping people to a better life.

It has always been important to me, however, to recognise that being a Surgeon is not who I am, but what I do. It may affect my lifestyle and even impinge on my personal life, but I don’t let it dictate my choices, my options and the direction of my life story. Admittedly it’s not easy to do. It requires me to be organised, to learn how to manage my time effectively, and to surround myself with teams of great people. Most of all, the understanding of my long-suffering family and friends was crucial to the success of my surgical career. I am a wife, daughter, aunt, sister and friend who has the privilege of being a Surgeon and loving what I do.

Surgery is not for everyone, but it is my choice and this is my story.

Read Lily’s previous article in First Defence: What I Learnt from Music

Dr Lily Vrtik (MDA National Member)
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon
Brisbane, Queensland

lily vrtik

Dr Lily Vrtik is a flautist in the Queensland Medical Orchestra (QMO). She is also QMO’s Marketing Manager.



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