Greek American Dr. George Velmahos MD, is Division Chief of Trauma, Emergency Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and also a Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
“None of us leaves home in the morning thinking that we will be involved in a car crash and find ourselves in the hospital a few hours later fighting for our lives. Trauma changes a life from one moment to the other. We, trauma surgeons, are there to respond immediately and hopefully reverse the badness, help patients through the critical time, and deliver them back to society healthy and productive,” says Dr. George.
For George, being a surgeon is a huge responsibility, as he is given the trust from his patients over their bodies and believes anyone in his role should be “confident but humble, aggressive but compassionate.”
Dr. George took some time out of his busy schedule to chat to GCT about what he does everyday, saving lives
What inspired you to study medicine?
Usually, the answer to this question has something to do with curing humanity’s diseases. This was not the case with me. I chose to study medicine (with surgery always being the ultimate goal) because of two reasons: A) make a change, B) never get bored. Surgery is one of these rare professions that you can create visible change from one day to another. You can change a person’s life or a family’s future with one operation. You can create happiness out of misery, hope out of despair. Sadly, things may also go the other way but you never stop to fight, to reinvent yourself, to strive to become better, to improve your outcomes. In this way you never get bored. And you know what they say: if you love your job, you never have to work.
Tell us about your experience as an intern?
I don’t remember much other than I felt like being where I belonged. The sea was mine to navigate and I could either sail it or drown. I opened sails and never looked back.
How has technology changed the way you practice medicine and treat patients?
In huge ways! Technology walks hand in hand with medicine. Whether it is cat scans and MRI’s that allow more precise imaging of the internal organs, robotic surgery, radiation techniques, new laboratory assays or complex surgical instruments, we depend on technological innovation to offer better chances to our patients. Physicians should partner with engineers to invent the tools of tomorrow.
When the Boston Marathon bombings tore the city apart almost four years ago, you were one of many doctors who treated the innocent patients. From your perspective, could you tell us about this moment.
By all means it was an eye-opener. It showed that acts of depravity can happen everywhere unpredictably. We have to be prepared. The moments following the Boston Marathon bombing were tough. Innocent civilians suffered and the emotional toll on everybody was immense. However, out of the suffering came resilience and pride. All the injured victims decided to rebuild their lives and became functional members of society. The city, the state, the nation came together to support the effort. And we, the physicians, felt proud because we did what we had to do well and none of the patients who arrived alive in a hospital was allowed to die.
You must be called a ‘hero’ by many patients. How do you feel about this?
I honestly believe that the true heroes are the patients and I tell them so. Releasing all control over your body to a stranger, even if this is a surgeon, requires near-heroic decisions. They are the ones who go through the ordeal of surgery and post-operative recovery. I am there every minute to give the fight with them but I am not the hero. They are!
Was there ever a moment when you thought you would give up being a surgeon?
It has never crossed my mind. I remember myself being single-digit years old and wanting to become a surgeon. Now, that I know the ins and outs of the profession, I am even more convinced. Were I to be born again, I would become a surgeon again.
ER doctors and surgeons seem to work incredibly long hours. What’s your work day or work week like?
Remember what I told you, if you love your job, you never have to work. I spend long days (and nights) in the hospital but it is not for work. It is for pleasure, for satisfaction, for excitement. The operating room is my paradise and I am happy in there. We help people every moment. What can be better than that?
Where do you see trauma surgery going in the future?
Trauma surgery is an amazing field and it will only become better. The new field of acute care surgery (managing all surgical emergencies of traumatic and non-traumatic nature) has re-invigorated the profession and offered endless opportunities to improve care, produce meaningful research, and change the future. The concept of having dedicated surgical teams taking care of all types of surgical emergencies 24/7 has caught like fire in the u.s. and around the world. Patients with urgent problems, who in the past would wait for hours, are now managed by these skilled teams expeditiously. I believe that trauma/acute care surgery is the surgery of the future.