Is Left-Handedness a Handicap for Training in Surgery?

Despite the progress made by our society, left handedness is still not widely accepted. Parents like to see their children write with their right hand initially and start correcting them if they use their left hand. Despite coming from a family, where my mother is left handed, I have faced the music many times in my life for using my left hand. My teachers at school used to scold me for my awkward way of writing despite having a reasonable hand writing (which is uncommon for doctors?? ). In spite of the scoldings, I persisted with my own way of writing and one advantage of my style was that nobody could copy my work during the exams.
Uncommon way of writing in India but common in the west. I always wanted to become a surgeon from the second year of medical school and while observing my seniors (who were mostly right handers) operate, the thought of a left handedness being a handicap crossed my mind many times. My teachers, most of whom were right handed, did not have much to say when I approached them with this query as a medical student but none of them discouraged from taking surgery as a career.
The thought of working as a left handed surgeon started haunting me again when I started my residency. Initially, I did find things a bit difficult because all the instruments were designed for right handed surgeons and left handed instruments (like left handed golf clubs) were not widely available. Most of my seniors, initially found it difficult to teach me the basics and used to get a bit annoyed when I used to start operating by standing on the left side of the table (for those who are not aware, most of the procedures are done by standing on the right side of the table). My mother, who is a successful left handed gynaecologist, was a constant source of inspiration during this tough period.
After the initial hiccough’s, my seniors became accustomed to my left handedness and taught me the skills more patiently. In no time, I mastered the techniques with my left hand and then started to hone my skills with the right hand as well. In fact, I tie right handed knots better than left handed knots (probably because I was taught by a right handed surgeon).
Now when I look back, being right handed or left handed really does not matter in the long run (in terms of a surgical career) and I would urge an aspiring surgeon not to give up the dream of pursuing a career in surgery because of being left handed. There have been many studies conducted on this topic and they have found no difference in surgical outcomes between right and left handed surgeons.

Some helpful points for a left handed surgical trainee:

– Don’t switch away from your dominant hand. Get good at doing the basics with your left hand (cutting straight with a scalpel, basic dissection, basic suturing), then learn how to do everything right-handed. If you start too
early trying to do everything with both hands, you’ll probably flounder around and not improve as quickly as you should.
– Learn to tie knots right handed first, since you’re going to learn to tie with both anyway.

– Use scissors with your right hand initially. Learning to cut left handed with right-handed scissors is tricky,  specially with heavy Prolene or other sutures.

– Once you’re good with your dominant hand, by all means work on ambidexterity. Being able to operate with both hands has been advantageous to me as I’ve progressed through residency.
– Don’t let being a lefty deter you in any way from pursuing a surgical career.

In the end I can just say one thing : I may be left handed, but I am always right!

Dr. Rohan Khandelwal
Consultant – Oncosurgeon (Breast Services)
W Pratiksha Hospital, Gurgaon
Head – Medical Affairs at Curofy
Email Contact : rohankhandelwal@gmail.com

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