Searching for a Specialist

The times of one doctor dealing with all ‘women’s problems’ are well and truly over. Modern medicine is about specialism. By asking questions, researching and reviewing the evidence you can find the right specialist to help put you on the road to recovery.

When you’re in pain or feeling unwell it’s easy to choose the first surgeon on the list or the one with the earliest available appointments. However, to get the best results, it’s important to find the right person with the experience and abilities to treat your specific condition.

As medicine and surgery have developed and evolved, there’s been an increased need for specialisation. In the practice of healthcare, as in life, no individual can excel at everything. We all have specific skills, interests, and talents. One person may be ‘good enough’ but is that what you’re really looking for?

Medicine and surgery – evolution and revolution

It hasn’t always been like this. Historically, one experienced person in a town or village acted as the healer, sage, astronomer and all-round ‘expert’. Later, trained doctors were expected to treat each and every ailment that they faced. They did their best with the information available – but cure rates for complex conditions were low and so were patient expectations. Gradually, with increasing knowledge and treatment options, it became impossible for any individual to know how to diagnose, understand and treat the vast pantheon of pathology. Specialism was the only answer.

It became clear that the practices of surgery and medicine required totally different skills. In the 1950s, the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London began to offer surgeons a formal status, separate from physicians, through fellowship. From this time, specific specialisms have grown and diversified at a rapid rate until the different branches have evolved into completely separate entities.

The modern era is one of super-specialisation, with surgeons focusing on particular areas of the body and specific techniques. If you have ever tried to learn a skill like driving, baking or speaking a language you’ll probably realise that the only way to get proficient is to focus, study, practice, practice and practice again.

That is also true in medicine. Specialisms are a good thing for the patient and the practitioner. You can be reassured that your doctor is not only interested in your condition but has also spent years studying, training and gaining experience in treating it.

Specialism in Gynaecology

When it comes to gynaecology, specialism is just as vital. Take it from me as an experienced gynaecological surgeon; a woman’s pelvic anatomy, physiology, and pathology are incredibly complicated. Whilst a general gynaecologist can deal with many of the everyday issues, for many conditions it is better to consult with an expert.

To get the optimum treatment for cancer, a gynaecologist oncologist will be the best person to treat you. Similarly, when it comes to infertility treatment, a fertility specialist should provide the insight and experience you need. For highly technical procedures like minimally invasive surgery and the treatment of endometriosis, specialisation is particularly important, it’s the only way to become truly adept and accomplished.

The truth is, there simply isn’t the time in one person’s career to become proficient in all fields. Focusing on a specific sub-speciality, allows a surgeon to develop their technique, hone their surgical skills and keep up to date with all the very latest research.

Learning as a surgeon certainly doesn’t stop at the point where you become a consultant. It is a constant process of evolution and development, the professional will only get better as they gain experience in their area of specialist interest.

Practice really does make perfect, or as close to perfect as possible. The number of specific procedures that a surgeon carries out is key to becoming an expert in their field. For me, that’s laparoscopic surgery and the treatment of endometriosis. You wouldn’t want a bowel surgeon to do your facelift or a plastic surgeon to replace your hip. Similarly, it’s important to choose a gynaecological surgeon who has chosen to concentrate on your condition and has dedicated their career to treating it.  Every patient that I see, or operate on, adds to my understanding, sharpens my skills and makes me a better surgeon.

Learning from Others

As well as learning from our own experiences, as surgeons we can gain knowledge from that of others. That’s not just by reading case-reports and journals but by talking to other experts within the speciality. In Britain we have societies that help to facilitate that process, there’s The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which almost all UK gynaecologists are members of. However, for those who are interested in minimally invasive surgery, there is also the British Society for Gynaecological Endoscopy (BSGE), on which I am a council member.

This sub-specialty society allows us to share knowledge, promote training and exchange ideas within our area of interest and expertise. Yes, we could diversify, do a little bit of everything. But that would mean there was less time to focus on our key speciality. I believe that in surgery you use it or lose it. It is only by constantly researching, practising and perfecting techniques that it is possible to stay at the very top of the game. It would be impossible to attend the meetings, read the journals and participate in the courses of many different societies- especially when, as doctors, we want to spend as much time as possible with our patients in clinics or in theatre.

Knowledge is power. Find out what your condition is, and then find a specialist that deals extensively with that condition.  The most important thing as a patient is to do your own research.  So, speak to support groups, search on the internet and don’t be afraid of asking questions.

Doctors aren’t always right. Remember to check and challenge, especially if you feel you are being brushed-off, misdiagnosed or referred to the wrong consultant. It is a huge ask to expect any GP, nurse or medical practitioner to know every name of every specialist, sometimes a gentle nudge in the right direction is all they need.

The right specialist can help control your symptoms so that you can feel better and start living life to the full. I wish you all the very best for your recovery.