Figure 1. Pages from De humani corporis fabrica, 1543, which was likely illustrated by John Stephen of Calcar, based on the dissections of the author, Andreas Vesalius. This anatomical text represents a pivotal shift in the approach to dissection, depiction of anatomy, and dissemination of medical knowledge. Images adapted from the Wellcome Collection, used under creative commons licence (CC BY 4.0).

“Much like dance, the art of surgery requires tedious, intentional practice—often with a rotation of partners in the operating room (OR), including the cadre of residents progressing through the surgical training paradigm and faculty colleagues—including, in my case, my spouse.

My husband and I are an unlikely pair, more different than alike. I spent my childhood in the Southeast, he grew up in the Northeast. I am petite; he is tall. As our daughter often points out, my skin is fair, his dark. Our taste in music is disparate, likely the result of an age difference—he was a teenager in the 1980s, me, the 1990s. Like many couples, our interests are divergent. He is fascinated by World War II history, spends hours in our garage refinishing furniture, is a connoisseur of cars and stereo equipment, and is energized by parties and social gatherings. I prefer to read contemporary memoirs and novels, pore over cookbooks, and visit with just a few close friends. He enjoys talking; I like the quiet. Yet despite these differences, our love for the craft of surgery is mutual.

During the past 5 years since I completed surgical training, my husband and I have been surgical colleagues and partners. We are both liver and pancreas surgeons, sharing a narrow subspecialty expertise at work, as well as a marriage at home. We sought academic appointments at the same institution after realizing that the choreography of navigating 2 independent careers in surgery, especially in a specific subspecialty, is challenging, if not nearly impossible.

Fortunately, operating together came naturally. We completed fellowship training at the same cancer center, albeit in slightly different generations, and as a result, our surgical technique is similar. We ascribe to the same oncological philosophy and operate with a shared appreciation for meticulous and careful dissection. Our personalities, although different, are surprisingly complementary in the operating room. He is the extrovert, lightening the mood through conversation, teaching the residents, and lifting the morale of the OR staff. These diversions enable me to be my introverted self, channeling critical energy toward my own focus and clinical precision. A combination of personality and a difference in years of experience, I can be more cautious and tentative at times, while he can be more decisive and willing to commit. The balance together, we’ve found, is just right.”

More on Pas de Deux via JAMA.

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