The two months of my externship was full of surgical experience and by the end, I was comfortable performing routine procedures without assistance. But the last day was humbling because I needed help with a neuter that wasn’t going to plan.
My ligature had slipped and the dog was bleeding. I asked for help and my mentor got to work on fixing the problem. As he was talking me through how to fix the mistake, all I could focus on was what I did wrong. I tried to mention it to him, but he cut me off, telling me that the mistake didn’t matter right then. We got the situation under control and I finished the surgery.
After the dog was recovering, we talked about the case and my mentor told me that the key to successfully recovering from the inevitable mistake is to manage the frustration. Frustration creates a twofold problem. First, it causes an emotional response to the problem. For some people the response might be anger and for others it might be tears. Regardless, emotional responses tend to be memorable for support staff and you can quickly become identified for your emotional responses to frustration. You can quickly become known for your irregular outbursts even though you are level headed and composed most of the time. My mentor told me he will ask for a new pair of gloves when he gets frustrated in surgery so that his mind can steal a moment away from the frustration. Changing gloves is a surreptitious way to physically move away from the problem for a moment without the other people in the suite preserving your stress. The other issue with frustration is that it distracts you from the task at hand. When something goes wrong, the reason it happened is normally immaterial. The necessity at the moment is to correct the mistake. My mentor told me that when he messes up, he tries to approach it as if someone else made the mistake. That way, he can be focused on solving the problem, not on how or why it happened.
Mistakes happen. As veterinarians, we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect at all times, and that’s not reality. Having someone coach you who has been through the frustration wringer is great. Being able to find a mentor who has a similar personality as you and who reacts similarly to stress is invaluable.