A surgical life by Agneta Montgomery
17 February 2022
My surgical life
What made you decide to become a surgeon?
Art and design have always been a passion in life. I designed and sewed almost all my own clothes when growing up. When my twin brother was to get married, he wanted to wear a white dress suit. I tailored it for him as there was nowhere, we could find one. I have kept on tailoring abdominal walls.
Who were your influences?
My father was my hero and inspiration. I adored him. His dream was to become a surgeon, but my family did not have the money for such a long education in the period between the 2 world wars. Instead, he became a teacher. I felt so sad for him, but this provided the inspiration and my goal was set – to become a surgeon – something I have never regretted.
What were your training highlights?
I took one semester off during medical education and worked at a small surgical unit in “the middle of nowhere” as a junior doctor in Sweden. There was such a shortage of surgeons that I received an intense and condensed surgical education by working almost round the clock for more than half a year. A senior surgeon close to retirement taught me everything that he knew. This was a fantastic experience and by the end of my last on-call shift I was confident to perform appendectomy and perforated ulcer surgery on my own. This condensed training did set the ground for my ambitions to become a surgeon.
Tell me about a surgical triumph
I am most proud of the development of the LoPa (Local Parastomal) mesh repair technique, that is soon to be published. To have a stoma per se is a mental trauma for the patient, but to have a dysfunctional stoma adds substantially to this inconvenience. A good functional stoma is vital for the quality of life for these patients. So many patients have expressed their gratitude, and this warms my heart.
Tell me what you learned from a surgical disaster
A goal of mine has always been to avoid disasters. You always know or feel when you are on “thin ice”. My advice is that you should call a friend. Do this early, when you get the feeling that you are stuck or think that two extra eyes and a new brain would make life easier and hopefully save the patient from a complication. A second opinion is a win-win situation, since you share a difficult situation that both of you can learn and gain further experience from.
What was your proudest achievement?
I was the first female surgeon in Sweden to become the president of the Swedish surgical society. For many years I worked with many colleagues, to develop a structured education and training programme for surgeons in Sweden much of which remains applicable on an international level. Later on, I became the first female president of the European Hernia Society.
What are your hobbies outside surgery?
In earlier times it was to design and make clothes. Since I met my husband, we have had a joint interest in re-designing and renovating two big old houses. One is an old house in Malmö city built originally in 1918 and a summerhouse on the south cost of Sweden dating from 1874.We have enjoyed the careful design and restoration work needed to keep the atmosphere and originality of the houses, while at the same time integrating modern facilities.
What advice would you give a young surgeon?
A good family relationship is the key for success. If you have a partner, you need to jointly agree on how to spend your time together and how best to take care and respect your partner. Good planning and honesty makes life easier.
What would you be, if you had not been a surgeon?
I “think” I am very flexible. Circumstances would have guided me. I have no specific alternative idea.
You should always take the consequences of all your actions and decisions into account. Try to learn and modify actions during your entire life.
I have no regrets that I could think of in a larger perspective. I have had a very fruitful life in my surgical mission. I am thankful to all the fantastic people that I have got to know on my journey in the surgical world. Devastating as it has been across the world, Covid has only been recent small intruder in a long career.
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