The corporatization and commodification of modern medicine has transformed medicine into what Dan Ariely, behavioral economist at Duke University, calls a “fixing-people production line.” Accordingly, surgical education focuses on training efficient technique.
Within this environment, surgeons increasingly report having lost a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. When social scientists recently asked a representative sample of U.S. surgeons whether they would encourage their own children to pursue a career in surgery, half said “no.” In the same study, 40% of surgeons met criteria for burn out, 30% screened positive for symptoms of depression, and 28% reported low mental quality of life. Furthermore, 18% of surgical trainees leave surgery altogether after only a single year of training.
The Project on the Good Surgeon at Duke University Department of Surgery aims to combat these trends. A formal curriculum, small group discussions, and one-on-one mentoring will enable residents to form the habits and practices necessary for navigating an increasingly hostile work environment. The program incorporates the arts and humanities to provide surgeons with exemplars, fostering a thick moral community wherein virtue and flourishing can be pursued.