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How Do Surgeons Deal With Stress?

Surgeons stand as heroes, and the public treats them as such. They possess knowledge and experience that only they had mastered. With these, surgeons save lives, respond to emergencies, and operate on diseases.

But given how they are idealized, it is easy to forget that surgeons are people too. Surgeons are like you and me!

Surgeons feel tired from their exhausting schedules and lengthy operations. Worse, they also bear pain a sense of guilt when their patients pass away.

So how do surgeons deal with stress? How do they cope with trauma, hospital problems, and personal issues? You will find out in this article.

What surgeons experience?

To fully appreciate what surgeons get stressed about, it is worth considering what they go through each day at the hospital.

In their regular work shifts, surgeons typically stay at the hospital for eight to twelve hours. There, they face high-pressure situations where every decision might have either life-saving or disastrous effects.

Surgeons are also bombarded with so much information, while their minds must make choices. During check-ups and rotations, surgeons absorb the pain and worries of the patients. They offer empathy, support, and understanding.

But their day can quickly spin out of control. Surgeons may have rude patients (they cannot talk back) or see their patients die before their eyes. They may even experience hospital politics and problems at home.

Speaking of personal problems, surgeons also sacrifice even their holidays and times with their families.

In summary, surgeons endure unbelievably high stress and mental strain:

  • Surgeons strive to live up to the public’s expectations of them.
  • They wake up early and sleep late, working even during weekends and holidays.
  • Every day, they perform several surgeries where they stand for multiple hours and face intense pressure.
  • Surgeons cannot complain about what they experience, yet they must keep their emotions and issues from affecting their practice.

Although the surgeons’ strength is admirable, their stress can lead to dire repercussions if left unchecked. Statistics have already shown that so many surgeons have already suffered severely because of this.

The consequences

In the British Journal of Surgery, a study shows that surgeons tend to make more errors during stressful situations in the operating room.

The study also says surgeons are 66% more likely to cause bleeding and tissue damage when they imagine a negative thought or hear a loud noise in the room.

Thus, short-term stress can lead to costly and fatal accidents in the operating room. How much more if the surgeons are troubled by chronic stress and anxiety?

According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, surgeons and surgical trainees are prone to burnout and distress. The same research shows that this tendency can harm their families and patients.

So while they may stand at the top of the social ladder, surgeons have high divorce statistics and suicide rates.

Because of this, surgeons need coping strategies—techniques that might also help you handle distress.

Strategies that surgeons do to deal with stress

Professional detachment

Physicians and surgeons are known for their stoicism: they train to be detached and emotionless.

Medical professionals do not behave like this to be rude. In reality, professional detachment keeps them from internalizing the pain and misery that patients endure.

By keeping their distance, surgeons can try to control their sympathy and emotions.

But surgeons are careful in practicing professional detachment. After all, they must make the patients feel that they care.

Surgeons must also display their compassion and empathy, especially during dire times. No matter what, surgeons must be kind, professional, and dignified.

While they display such qualities, however, they must not be overwhelmed by these emotions. Through professional detachment, surgeons can protect themselves from losing out of control.


In many hospitals, physicians and surgeons undergo case debriefings. Here, they talk about the surgery, review what they know about the case, and assess the treatment outcomes.

During these talks, surgeons can also relieve themselves from the stress that the surgery brought them. They can also give feedback and support to one another.


Surgeons also deal with stress through sublimation, a defense mechanism for medical professionals like them.

Sublimation means the mental tendency to convert unacceptable emotions and impulses into constructive and productive acts. They also forgive themselves when they make mistakes.

As surgeons store negative thoughts in their minds, they release this tension while practicing their careers. Surgeons turn their stress into positivity so that they can save the lives of their patients.

Outside the hospital, surgeons use hobbies as their outlet. They can turn to literature, sports, exercise, and entertainment.

Seeking professional help

If stress and emotional problems start to affect their work, surgeons can talk to mental health professionals. Psychologists and psychiatrists can help their colleagues cope with their issues.

Through therapy and rehabilitation, surgeons may have the right mindset to deal with distress and avoid substance use, among other detrimental behaviors.


Ultimately, it is up to the surgeons themselves to cope with their stressful environment and negative thoughts. With their purpose and mindset, surgeons can excel no matter what.

In the end, they can do these as they conduct their self-reflection:

  • They reflect on their values.  They need to go to the basics—why did they choose to be a surgeon in the first place? So, is what they are going through worth that purpose?
  • They strive to balance life and work. At times, surgeons need to sacrifice their spare time and bonding moments with their families. But how do they spend the days left for them to be together?
  • They remember how meaningful their careers are. Every kid admires heroes because they have the power and the ability to save lives. Surgeons have given up so much to have the skill to operate diseases and potentially extend their patients’ lives.

Keeping this in their minds and appreciating how they had come so far can help them find joy even in the most stressful moments at the operating room and beyond.

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