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The Loneliness Of The Left Handed Surgeon

Mentoring by a right handed surgeon will only leave the left-handed residents to teach themselves a procedure.

Left Handed Surgeons

Left handed surgeons lack access to left handed instruments while training, receive little mentoring about their left handedness, and are more prone to needle stick injuries than their right handed colleagues. They also have considerable difficulty handling some instruments.

One in 10 left handed surgeons was also uncomfortable with the idea of being operated on by a left handed surgeon, says a report in Current Surgery. Six per cent also reported concerns by patients about their laterality.

The perils and pitfalls of being left handed emerge from a survey of surgeons in New York city, Manhattan, and Brooklyn; there were 68 responses from clinicians aged 27 to 60.

The authors, from New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and other institutions, say that left handed surgeons feel that they are the last unorganised minority. The survey found that only 13% of left handed surgeons were provided with left handed instruments while training.

“Having basic sets of left-handed instruments (scissors, clamps, and needle holders) available in the teaching hospitals for medical students and surgical residents may minimise the inconveniences associated with learning,” the authors wrote.

The report says there is a lack of laterality related mentoring for left handed surgical residents: “There are no studies or teaching material available to teach left-handed surgical residents. Laterality-related guidance was reported to be minimal in medical school.”

“Nearly half of the left-handed surgeons surveyed were anxious about their laterality related difficulties and sought advice during surgical residency, but only one in 10 programs mentored for laterality predominance. Provision of a left-handed mentor and other environmental modifications could be used to minimise the recurring difficulties for left-handed learners.”

The report says that left handed surgeons preferred an approach that might be different from a right handed surgeon in an invasive procedure: “Mentoring by a right handed surgeon will only leave the left-handed residents to teach themselves a procedure.”

It says that left handed surgeons felt that several surgical procedures were difficult to learn standing on the right side of the operating table, including open cholecystectomy and pelvic surgical procedures: “Left-handed surgical residents should be given a chance to stand on the left side of the operating table.”

Another finding was that laparoscopy and laparoscopic instruments have not eliminated the problems of instrument handling: “The popular belief that laparoscopy and minimally invasive surgical instruments have completely eliminated difficulties for the left-handed surgeons does not hold true for the respondents in this study. Laparoscopic surgery involves more static posture of the neck and trunk with more frequent awkward movements of the upper extremities than open surgery.”

Another unexpected finding was that some respondents were uncomfortable with the idea of being operated on by a left handed surgeon: “We were surprised to learn that one in 10 left-handed surgeons have perceivable difficulty in being treated by another left handed surgeon. Unfortunately, our survey did not have the provision to inquire into the reasons for this perception.”

Roger Dobson

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