Ask Me Anything – Dr. Haralds Plaudis

  1. What advice would you have for those who aren’t sure which specialty in medicine they want to choose, but really want to be successful at what they do?

Well, I think that it is only normal that we are not always confident and are a bit scared when we start something new. Especially in a profession where not making the right decisions can sometimes cost people’s lives. My advice is to simply begin; making the first steps is usually the hardest part. Do not be afraid of failure, everybody fails. If you want to become a good surgeon, just do it and don’t be afraid that you might eventually realize that it does not suit you; you can always do something else. 

  1. How do you switch over from your job to other things, such as your home life? What would you recommend for medical students to help deal with a stressful environment and to improve their sleep quality?

When you are a surgeon you actually never quit, it is not a profession but rather a lifestyle. Your patients and duties usually come first and that affects and sometimes even hurts the people closest to you. The best ways to “switch off” are physical activities, spending time with your family, hobbies (if you have the time for them, and you definitely should) and only then you will hopefully sleep better and dream about future surgeries.


  1. Have you ever thought about quitting or changing your speciality during your career as a qualified surgeon?

Of course – life gets hard when you start thinking about it pessimistically or that running away from your problems is the best solution. It is not! Surgeons are used to facing difficulties and solving problems, we are the best in doing that. This profession is too interesting to quit.


  1. What do surgeons think about during surgery?

It depends on the stage of the surgery. During a very difficult part of the surgery (understanding the anatomy, resection, reconstruction) we are strictly focused on the surgical procedure. During the “easier” parts we can think about a million other things – planning summer holidays, what to buy for supper, latest sports results and so on.


  1. Are surgeons arrogant and self-confident because they believe they won’t make mistakes during surgery?

Surgeons are absolutely normal people and we also feel scared and uncertain. Professionalism means that you overcome those feelings and strive only for the best results, you can even die internally but others shouldn’t know that. If a surgeon is displaying arrogance and excessive self-confidence it means that they are wearing a mask. Speaking about mistakes – there are two types of doctors, the ones that have made mistakes and the ones that definitely will, it is hard to accept, but it’s true.


  1. How do doctors deal with stress in their demanding work environment?

Sometimes it can be very difficult and, as you probably know, being a surgeon is associated with one of the highest burnout rates between all medical professions. To avoid that, you need to sleep well and have a good friend to talk everything over with.


  1. What is the general opinion of doctors and other medical staff about having visible tattoos and piercings? What is your opinion on this issue?

Nowadays we are living in a free society and mostly it means that we are free to do what we think is the best for us. I’m not against patients’ piercings and tattoos but being a doctor means much more than externally signalling to others that we are somehow different. 


  1. How can you know if you’re fit to be a surgeon? What personality traits or principles should a surgeon have?

You can never know that; you can never tell whether the food tastes good before tasting it! Start working and soon you will know the answer. The most important quality for a surgeon is self-honesty – then you will know your limits, strengths and weaknesses.


  1. When and how did you make the decision that surgery would be your speciality? Did you consider many other options? What would be your next choice after surgery?

The idea of becoming a surgeon came up in my mind when I was in the fourth year of medical school; it was during surgical classes that were taught by an absolutely inspiring personality: M. Pūce. Of course, I considered other options as well, for example, I was thinking about becoming a cardiac surgeon, but during the fifth year I started volunteering and doing night shifts in general surgery at hospital “Gaiļezers”. A young, very active and perfectly skilled surgeon Dr. A. Rudzāts became my mentor, and at this time I made my final decision – I want to dedicate my life to general surgery. Since then I have never thought of doing something else.


  1. What has been the funniest incident at your work place having to do with your chosen specialty?

Most of the surgeons joke around every day, humour plays an important role in the surgeon’s profession, but this humour is very specific… Funniest incident – it happened some time ago when I was still a resident. We were having a terribly busy night shift and performing a lot of surgeries. Usually all of the night shift surgeries should be coordinated with the head attending surgeon, which they were. It is 9 PM and we are finishing our fifth appendectomy, when the operating room doors suddenly open and there stands one of our head attending surgeons who had had a shift the night before and he asks us very angrily why are we not informing him about the surgeries. It was very difficult to convince him that it is not his shift and that he should go home to get some sleep. That sometimes happens if you work too much and fall asleep in your office.


  1. Which common surgeries can easily be prevented?

Incidence of traumas is annually rising worldwide and most traumas are associated with alcohol consumption followed by inappropriate behaviour. Traumas and surgeries related to drinking are usually preventable and it is sad to see young people get devastating injuries followed by a lifelong disability.


  1. What was your favourite subject during the first 2 years of Medical school?

My favourite subject was definitely anatomy followed by histology. I and my group mate used to live in the Anatomicum, it was really great.


  1. How often do you use your embryology knowledge in your daily practice? Quick question, which gene activates eye development?

I think I understand what you are trying to say with this question, but, surprisingly, I can answer that – almost every day. You may be wondering how is that possible. Let me explain: modern concepts of oncological and not only oncological surgery state that tissue dissection and resection should be guided by the embryonic plane. It helps to dissect tissues with next to no blood loss and it also promotes the radicality of surgery. And, of course, I do not know which gene activates eye development.


  1. When and why did you decide to devote your career to surgery?

You can look at the answer of question No. 10.


  1. What is the main advantage and the main disadvantage of studying medicine in Latvia?

Speaking about advantages – you can study medicine in Latvia completely free of charge (I can congratulate every graduating local student for earning approximately 100 000 EUR – that is the average price of medical education in Europe) and the competitive capacity of education here is quite high. Disadvantages – I don’t actually see any, we mostly create them ourselves. It is so easy to blame others or the system for our failures.


  1. What is the best way to relax?

Being out of the hospital and being close to the nature. Silence is very important; it is great if you can dedicate at least 10 minutes every day only to yourself.


  1. If you had a second chance to study medicine, what would you do differently?

I would try to study harder and do more scientific work; also spending at least a year studying abroad would be very important to me.


  1. How many times have you cut your finger with a scalpel?

Well, I don’t know precisely how many, but unfortunately it has happened several times.


  1. Has your job ever interfered with your personal life?

Unfortunately – yes, and it still keeps happening, I really hope that my family understands that. To elaborate, they have got used to the fact that I can be unavailable. You need to have a good family to keep up with your professional life. I have a wonderful family and I couldn’t have achieved as much as I have without them.


  1. What words of encouragement or warning would you offer to first year medical students? Maybe there is something you would’ve wanted to know when you were doing your first year of medical school?

Please remember and do not ever lose the feeling that you had when you started medical school. Bad and good things will come and go but they are not so important. However, if you lose the feeling that you are in the right place and are doing the right things, you will get lost and confused. You have to keep loving what you are doing.

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