How to become an orthopaedic surgeon, by the woman who was first in her field

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Work/Life is Stylist’s regular column about the professional routines of successful women. Here, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Samantha Tross talks us through her one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out. 

Dr Samantha Tross, 50, is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at The Princess Grace Hospital. She lives in west London. 

My alarm goes off…

At 6.30am. I check the weather first thing because it informs my wardrobe choices for the day. Then I do some stretches. I suffer with neck and back pain – one of the hazards of the job unfortunately – so stretching helps. Most days, I wear a skirt or trouser suit from somewhere like Hobbs. I eat some cereal and grab my flask of decaffeinated earl grey as I leave. 

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I’m responsible for…

Treating patients with disorders of the hip and knee as well as patients with acute injuries such as fractures anywhere in the limbs. I also oversee the education of trainee surgeons. It’s a varied, ever-expanding, rewarding job.

I got the job…

By following my calling. I don’t know if it was because I witnessed a lot of death when I was young or because my mum was a nurse, but apparently, at age seven, I told my father I wanted to be surgeon. I have no idea where it came from.

I studied at University College London. I fancied myself as a cardiologist or a psychiatrist but I always came back to surgery because of my love of anatomy. The first female surgeon I saw was an orthopaedic surgeon, so that contributed to my specialism. I became the first black female orthopaedic surgeon in the UK. I wasn’t aware of this when I was training, so it took a while for the enormity of that to sink in. 

She carries out 3 to 5 surgeries a day

My typical day…

Starts at 8am with what we call a trauma meeting. This is where we discuss emergency admissions from the night before. Next, I do a ward round, talking to patients. Then it’s straight into surgery.

Most of the time it’s an elective surgery: patients who come in for either keyhole surgery on their knees or joint replacements. My emergency patients are usually fractures, the most common places will be the forearm, ankle or hip. I’m always confident going into it. By this point, I know how I’m going to approach the problem and I have a plan B, because there’s often more than one way to deal with something.

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While it’s happening, I listen to music – always Luther Vandross, anything by him keeps me nice and calm. You have to be completely focused. The longest procedure I’ve done was around five hours, but you never feel tired during it because of the adrenalin. Afterwards, I need a cup of tea; it takes me a while to come down.

By 12pm my stomach starts to rumble, so I’ll grab a sandwich. I do three to five surgeries a day. 

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My most memorable moment…

Was when a colleague asked me to do a knee replacement on his mother. I felt honoured.

The worst part of my job…

Is having to deal with difficult personalities. It’s something you’re not trained for.

The best part of my job…

Is being able to make a positive impact on someone’s life. 

Much of her work involves joint replacements

After work…

I try to catch up with some reading. And, I have to admit, it’s primarily medical journals. There’s not a lot of downtime during the week. For dinner, I like to make rice with some kind of stew. When I get into bed I’ll switch on Netflix, but by then I’m so tired that I fall asleep at the beginning of an episode. This is usually around midnight.

My Plan B: Food critic

I kind of fancy the idea of travelling around the world and sampling lots of different foods. I love to eat! So working as a food critic would combine my passion for travel and food perfectly. 

Photography: Holly McGlynn


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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.

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