Is it better to be lucky or good?


Some surgeons believe that it is better to be lucky rather than good. Personally I opt for both when possible but would opt for good over lucky. 

Luck comes in to surgery quite a lot. Everyone knows a colleague who is the renowned shit magnet when on call. As soon as you comment that “it’s quite quiet” you can guarantee that a person will suddenly start bleeding, perforating or infarcting some part of their GI tract and be heading in to you. 

Patients wish to be lucky, when you tell your old, elective, cancer patient that they have an 8% predicted mortality (I love this website for risk in surgery predictions it’s by Paris Tekkis) they hope that it doesn’t happen to them. Patients need all the luck they can get. 

I try to be good, I try very hard to do a nice operation. My perfectionism is occasionally a hinderance and endlessly washing until it’s crystal clear goes against any belief in the magic God of luck, who one of my Great Leaders swears will take care of anything I haven’t sucked away or a tiny bleeder I’ve failed to frazzle. 

I’m a red cell chaser, I like it all to look like an anatomy book. 

Having surgical OCD kicks in even worse when I am doing the operating alone, with nobody surgically minded assisting me. My need for just one more look, one more stitch, one more wash and then I will be happy is quite bad. I’m a mother hen fussing about, indecisive and back and forth peeking at the bit in question. I also talk to myself, which is bat shit crazy, but I imagine that I’m talking to someone who actually knows and understands surgery and is not the medical student or junior doctor hauled off the ward to assist me. 

Talking aloud and agreeing with yourself is obviously madness but quite often my opinion is the only one I have available  during an operation. I also think that my operating table chatter is a deliberate way of controlling the noise level in the room as at least if I keep talking everyone else stays quiet. An as yet unemployed tactic suggested to me by a friend is to declare “right, everyone shut the fuck up unless you are me”. 

Luck is something that you can’t control, sometimes you will have some bad luck and other times it will be good luck. You can control being a good surgeon, doing good operations and making good decisions and quite often your good decisions can compensate for any bad luck. 


10 thoughts on “Is it better to be lucky or good?

  1. This has been such a prevalent theme for me recently, especially now that I’m job-hunting. Whilst telling an old friend and colleague that I need to take some backwards steps back into the sector I was before, and how worried I am about it because I’ve been out of the game for two years, she replied that what I really needed was someone to give me a chance. I just needed a little bit of luck. I added that luck is meaningless without hard work. Luck is only relevant if you consistently deliver, and show yourself to be a good worker. So yes, I agree with you: the harder you work, the luckier you get.

    • In the context of this discussion, luck is defined as almost a personal quality or something that is bestowed on a person. I am guessing you’ll be in the “it’s better to be good” camp.

      • I am, but I admit I’ve benefited frequently from the elusive luck. “The harder I practise, the luckier I get”, of course (Gary Player, whose wife I sat behind at a funeral, a while ago)

  2. LOL! I know what you mean by “surgical OCD”. Being a red cell chaser isn’t a bad thing, as long as the patient isn’t crashing obviously. I think some people tolerate a bit more bleeding than others, but even a small amount can be a nuisance (e.g. in lap/robotic surgeries, where it absorbs the light).

  3. One might maybe choose being lucky if you just want to be just merely good and note better than the average? But I think if you want to do something great then that’s a different story.

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