Dr. Kelly McCoy is a former naval officer who served in Iraq and an endocrine surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She continues her thoughts,
What was your absolutely lowest moment or situation while in the Navy?
My answer is probably the same that other non-military surgeons would give; when Iâ€™ve failed.
Two things immediately come to mind. Both were while I was deployed and both were situations where I was helpless to save someone.
IEDs are horrific and dastardly weapons. They tear through everything with the force of blunt and penetrating trauma compounded by the added insult of burn injury as well.
We were able to get a young man through the initial stages of trauma after sustaining chest and abdominal trauma from the concussive force of an IED. Unfortunately he ultimately didnâ€™t survive the effects of that blast.
We also had several Iraqis make their way to us at great risk to their safety to seek care. One in particular was a very young man with a cancer recurrence that would have been easily treated here in the US.
He was told by Iraqi physicians that his cancer was too widespread and that there was nothing they could do. It made me aware of how desperate the medical situation was for these people and the chasm between care here and elsewhere.
Honestly, the day I left the Navy, though exciting was also a low point. I left because I promised my kids that I would not leave them again – I have three now and my oldest two were 4 and almost 2 when I deployed – and because I wanted to do strictly endocrine surgery.
But, our Navy years were some of the best of our lives together and my time in Iraq will be one of my proudest periods when I reflect later. Marines are a rare breed that should be revered and treasured. It was my great honor to be there to take care of them when they needed me. Itâ€™s hard to give up that part of the job.
How much cultural dissonance did you feel while in Iraq?
I… had a…. epiphany with regard to the vast difference in cultural and religious beliefs between us and many in the Middle East. I spent some time in Baghdad. While there, I helped to take care of a young teen who had been involved in a suicide bomber attack at a party.
My maternal instincts kicked in and immediately made me worried for this young man. I imagined he was terrified not knowing where he was and if his family had survived. He made it through surgery and I was anxious to see him the following morning once he was extubated.
I didnâ€™t care what his political or religious affiliations were. I wanted this â€œlittle boyâ€ to know he was ok, that his pain would soon wane and that we would help him to get back to his family.
However, this â€œlittle boyâ€ was actually a young man who despised us so palpably that I could see it in his eyes and demeanor. It made me critically aware how far we were from making an impact there.
Did you ever meet or take care of any SEALs and what was that experience like?
Yes! I worked with three – two surgeons and an ICU nurse. I had the expectation, prior to meeting these three men that you could spot a SEAL a mile away.
I imagined that they would be extremely intense, always casing the joint for danger and hot-headed. This perception was so far from reality!
These gentlemen were some of the most calm, cool and collected people Iâ€™ve had the opportunity to work with. All three were remarkably nice people who the Navy was very fortunate to hold onto as they moved along another demanding career path.
Do you support the current residency work restrictions and do you support further restrictions down to 56 hours?
Though I do understand where the restrictions came from, I think it will hurt us as a profession in the end. Medical students no longer have to take overnight call!
You know very well how much happens â€œafter hoursâ€! My decision to pursue surgery was sealed after my first night of surgery call.
I was up the entire night seeing trauma after trauma and watching as a finely tuned transplant team readied one patients organs to allow several others to live.
Todayâ€™s studentsâ€™ life decisions regarding career choice must now be made based on very superficial exposure and information.
And, there are no work hour restrictions for attending surgeons. So, I think weâ€™re setting up an entire generation of surgeons for a huge disappointment which will lead to attrition and disgruntled doctors.
I honestly worry about aging in the current system and feeling like a baton being passed between providers who only know about me (from) what can be read in a chart.
What do you do to improve or maintain your operative, technical skills as a surgeon?
Practice, practice, practice. I am extremely fortunate to have my â€œdream jobâ€. I practice strictly endocrine surgery in a busy academic setting. I do 6-12 cases each week.
What are your current career goals?
I hope to continually improve the care that I provide to my patients and to continue contributing meaningful clinical research to the field of endocrine surgery.
One of my favorite parts of academic surgery is teaching the next generation of surgeons. It is so gratifying to see a young surgeon evolve into a confident, competent and compassionate colleague. I plan to continue to be highly involved in surgical education.