Issue 5 - May 3, 2024
Savannah Santiago
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine Candidate 2024

Sole Purpose 5
Why I Believe (or Tell Myself) That Sitting in
Traffic Will Make Me a Better Surgeon

I love Southern California. Its sunshine and ocean draw me in, and I firmly believe that San Diego, my hometown, truly is the finest city in the United States. However, spending the last two years commuting around Southern California, primarily in the Los Angeles region for my clinical rotations, has instilled me with a severe disdain for driving in traffic. The relentless traffic in Los Angeles pays no heed to my schedule or sentiments, leaving me with no option but to cope with it and, surprisingly, learn to appreciate it. Below, I'll outline how I've convinced myself not just to tolerate but to enjoy, dare I say LOVE, my morning commute, and how I believe it contributes to my growth as a doctor and surgeon.

How Bad Is Your Traffic and How Can You Possibly LOVE It?
To give you an idea of the traffic's severity, consider this: during a family medicine rotation located 26 miles away in downtown Los Angeles, I discovered that to arrive at 8 am sharp, I needed to set out an hour and 45 minutes earlier. On my current rotation, spanning 34 miles with a 9 am start, I've found that leaving at 7 am reduces my commute to a mere hour, compared to the usual 2 hours and 3 minutes. Embracing an earlier start to my day has become a habit, ensuring I'm consistently early for my rotations. During my third year, I utilized this extra morning time for focused study sessions at a nearby coffee shop or within the clinic breakroom. Now, as a fourth-year student juggling clinical duties and marathon training, I kick-start my day with a visit to a gym near my rotation, fostering a healthy and energetic beginning to my workday. I have become a pro at running on the treadmill while listening to educational material and while driving.

I have become a pro at running on the treadmill while listening to educational material

Moreover, I've transformed my perspective on being stuck in traffic. No longer do I view it as a frustrating crawl at 5 mph, but rather as personal time—a moment to pause, reflect, and indulge in self-care. I make the most of this time by listening to audiobooks, a luxury I couldn’t otherwise afford myself. Initially, I attempted to use this time for educational purposes, immersing myself in surgery podcasts and scholarly articles. However, I soon realized that early mornings required a gentler approach, opting instead for music or captivating audiobooks until I'm fully awake and caffeinated.

I am fortunate to have a large and caring family, along with incredible friends whom I consider family. A fundamental aspect of my daily life is ensuring I talk with someone I love, whether it's my parents, little brother, cousins, close friends, or significant other—each conversation brings me immense joy. The drive home, coupled with my car's Bluetooth capability, provides a perfect opportunity for a quick call, allowing me to catch up with loved ones without interruption. These moments are precious, offering insights into my best friend's recent promotion, my brother's culinary triumphs, or my cousin's excitement about her homecoming dress—details I might otherwise miss amid my busy schedule.

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In managing traffic, my most indispensable tool is having snacks in the car. As a diabetic, I'm more attuned to the impact of sugar fluctuations on my day-to-day activities. However, my tendency towards severe hunger, better named hanger, often exacerbates the situation. Understanding my body's needs, I recognize the importance of eating every 4-6 hours. Often, I find myself working through lunch or hastily consuming a protein bar, leaving me famished during my drive home. Furthermore, I consistently refrain from stopping for food, always reminding myself that I have groceries waiting at home. To combat this, I keep a small lunch box stocked with protein bars, trail mix, fruit leather, and other snacks in my car. This prevents the inevitable breakdowns caused by hunger pangs, allowing me to remain mindful and present in the moment rather than longing to reach home.

So, how does this all relate to surgery? Shifting my mindset from resenting uncontrollable traffic to embracing it has taught me valuable lessons applicable to the operating room. I've learned to manage my emotional responses, accepting that while I may not control every aspect of surgery, I can control my reactions. Moreover, navigating traffic has instilled in me the importance of arriving early and prepared, fostering patience and mindfulness—qualities essential in a surgical setting. My commute has become a cherished ritual, allowing me to consume enriching content, stay connected with loved ones, and prioritize self-care amidst a demanding schedule.

Until next time!

Savannah Santiago
PRESENT Sole Purpose Editor
[email protected]


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