All vascular surgeons want to be good doctors and to take the best possible care of their patients. They, therefore, train diligently and strive to keep up with new developments by reading vascular journals and attending cutting edge vascular meetings. They seek to optimize their judgment, communicate well and honestly with patients, perform their procedures with care, and follow their patients closely.
However, doing all these things does not ensure ascendancy in the profession. There are other factors which go into being a successful vascular surgeon. Many of these are not taught in medical school or residency training, and failure to recognize their importance can derail an otherwise prominent career. It is, therefore, important to highlight some of these factors which can be pitfalls to even the best trained and most committed vascular surgeon.
Vascular surgeons exist in a professionally competitive environment. We compete for patients with several other specialists including interventional cardiologists, interventional radiologists, and some general and cardiac surgeons as well as other lesser competitors.
All are hungry for patients and all consider themselves expert in all or some of the things we do. We also face competition from other vascular surgeons, few of whom feel busy enough to turn away patients. Therefore, it is important that vascular surgeons consider the competitive landscape when they are choosing a location or institution in which to practice. Is there an empty niche for the particular skills one brings to the area or the institution, and will other physicians in the area recognize those skills? Even then they must compete effectively not only by providing superior care but also by engaging in appropriate public relations and marketing of their assets.
Recognizing the importance of professional relationships with nonphysicians and other physicians outside our specialty and cultivating these relationships are other keys to success. The need for good relationships with referring physicians is obvious. Not so obvious is the need to have good relationships with hospital administrators who control essential resources, with other specialists like anesthesiologists and intensivists who can optimize the care our patients receive, with industry representatives, and even with other vascular surgeons. To make these relationships work to our advantage it is crucial to make them mutually beneficial. People are much more inclined to be helpful if what they are doing also helps them. Mutual self-interest can even improve interactions with competitors.
It is also important to avoid making enemies. This is particularly hard to do in the competitive environment in which we work. It is even harder to do in the present health care setting in which others who we do not control are unreasonable or incompetent. This is particularly true with those in positions of administrative authority like hospital executives or operating room supervisors. Making enemies of these individuals can be disastrous since they often control resources that determine our destiny. Keeping such individuals supportive or at least neutral, despite their possible serious flaws, is worth the sometimes painful effort required.