This website uses cookies to improve your experience.

Cookie policy

The day I decided surgery was for me…inspired by nurse Sophie.

Authors: Maria Belen Rivera Castro; MD candidate; Hospital Padre Hurtado; Santiago de Chile;; @MBRiveraC

The event that pointed me towards surgery was meeting Sophie during a volunteer trip at Quemchi, a small town in Chile. Sophie was a student nurse who had recovered from small bowel cancer. She had her first diagnosis at 16, and relapsed at age 20. Even though the fear that her cancer would come back was present, it was thought unlikely it would happen again. One day, during my surgical internship, I noticed her name on the operating board. I was shocked. She had relapsed again at 23. I cried alone, because I was part of her medical team. Seeing expert surgeons work on my friend’s body by performing open laparotomy was a life-changing experience. They managed to fix her by removing the tumour and joining the healthy ends of her intestine. This was the moment I decided that surgeons possess the precision and technical expertise that I want to strive to master and practice for my whole life.

I was always fascinated by anatomy, every part of the body was placed in a particular location for a reason. Later, while studying physiology, I realized the beauty and complexity of the systems in human bodies; it never ceases to amaze me how each system works so intricately. I see surgery as hands-on nature, an opportunity to fix a problem restructuring the anatomy and physiology, so everything can work again.

During my academic career, I began my practice at Hospital Padre Hurtado, a public hospital in my hometown, Santiago, Chile. This hospital offers medical care to a location that has the highest poverty rate in any urban area of Chile. It is situated in a neighbourhood that qualifies as a red zone because it is adjacent to several slums that are well known for drug trafficking-related violence. The hospital is surrounded by a bulletproof shield which was constructed after receiving shots from outside the hospital, where one of the bullets went through the wall and almost hit the oxygen network. Working at this hospital made me realize the moral duty physicians have to work in the public health area. Setting the highest standards and using constant constructive criticism of myself is of the utmost importance to me. I have genuine interest and am in constant pursuit of excellence in medical knowledge so one day, I can use these skills to improve the health situation of my home country.

Life is made up of choices. Yes or no. In or out. To fight, or to give in. To live or die. Sophie chose to live, currently cancer-free thanks to surgical craftsmanship that restored her body. My choice of surgery is not simply a realization of what I find to be intellectually challenging, but a declaration of the role I want to play as a person


Part of the charitable activity of the Foundation, BJS Academy is an online educational resource for current and future surgeons.

The Academy is comprised of five distinct sections: Continuing surgical education, Young BJS, Cutting edge, Scientific surgery and Surgical news. Although the majority of this is open access, additional content is available to BJS subscribers and strategic partners.

Discover the Academy
Surgeon Training & Surgeons in Surgery