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Rising Stars: Neurosurgery: Long Hours, Making a Difference

By Hannah Waight

At age thirty-six, Tom is two years out of his residency and is just beginning his work as a neurosurgeon at the private practice Peachtree Neurosurgery in Atlanta, Georgia. Although it has required long hours and lots of frustration to get him there, he is happily settled in his job at Peachtree and enjoying his work as a neurosurgeon.

Name: Dr. Tom Morrison
School: College of the Holy Cross; Emory Medical School
Major: Economics
Years Out of College: 10+
Title: Neurosurgeon
Company: Peachtree Neurosurgery
First Steps

When Tom started off at Holy Cross, he had no idea that he would end up in medicine, much less that he would become a neurosurgeon. At first his interests lay in finance, but he grew frustrated with the self-promoting culture of the industry. Tom decided that he wanted to do something that would help people more and in his junior year decided to go to medical school. After four years at Emory for medical school, he went on to seven years of residency at Northwestern University in Chicago. Like many aspiring surgeons, Tom worked insanely long hours, typically averaging 120 hours per week.

From Then to Now

One question you might ask Tom is why he chose neurosurgery, which has some of the most rigorous training of any field of medicine. Tom decided in medical school that he wanted to go into surgery--a field which, according to Tom, is suited only for those with the right mentality: "You have to be willing to work hard and make some major sacrifices."

Through neurosurgery, Tom feels that he is able to really help people and make a difference in their health and lives. Now, at Peachtree, he is on the verge of becoming a full partner and becoming board certified. Without a doubt, it's a great place to be.

Challenges Faced

An aspect of the healthcare industry that Tom finds most frustrating is the legal and liability issues surrounding care provision. In spite of a doctor's best efforts, not all health outcomes are good and many times patients expect more than is possible from their care providers. As Tom puts it, every doctor wants to help their patients, but no one is perfect. Although Tom himself has never been sued for malpractice from a dissatisfied patient, the possibility of such of thing occurring just adds anxiety and frustration to his job.

Next Steps

As much as Tom loves his job, he knows that he can't stay in it forever. Being a surgeon simply isn't possible much past age fifty-five, as you don't have the skills when you get older. Tom has considered going back to school to get his MBA at some point down the road. By age fifty, if not sooner, he can see himself doing something else. Without a doubt, he will put the same zeal into his future work that he now puts into his surgery.

Advice for Others

The path that Tom has taken might not be right for everybody--the long hours, years of training and high stress that accompany neurosurgery are difficult. Tom's advice is that you should only go into neurosurgery if you are passionate about it. He comments: "if you want to go into medicine, you just have to really really love what you want to do." All other factors like money and prestige should not be critical reasons for your choice of career. After all, being a surgeon isn't the only career available in the healthcare industry.

In spite of this, if you have your sights set on being a surgeon, Tom reckons you should do it, as "it's just what you love." For him, this is definitely the truth.

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