The Flame asks Laura Petrey, MD, FACS, program director of the Surgical Critical Care Fellowship at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & White Health, and trauma surgeon on the medical staff, five questions about herself, her time teaching and the future of medicine.
(Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
1. What made you decide to enter the field of Surgical Critical Care?
When I was in sixth grade, I saw a video in school about kids who had craniofacial defects. After seeing that video – which I can’t believe they showed in school – I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. I went through my whole education wanting to be a plastic surgeon. Then I got to Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s in Chicago, where I did my residency, and we got to rotate at Cook County, which is a big trauma center.
I realized in my first year of general surgery residency after rotating with the plastic surgeons that I didn’t want to do that. Then when I got to do trauma, it was awesome. Patients come in critically injured, and I got to bring them back to life. And the surgeries were satisfying and fun, so I just got the trauma bug. It was just life-changing.
Of course, my mom was kind of disappointed because she wanted me to be a plastic surgeon, so she could get some free work done.
2. What big developments do you see changing in the training of house staff in the next 10 years?
There definitely will be more simulation training because of the work hour restrictions not allowing residents to get the necessary time in the operating room or at the patient’s bedside. Both are needed to become proficient. They have to get the same amount of operative cases to get the experience they need, but if they’re working less hours, that won’t happen. I feel like everyone is moving toward simulation to fill that gap.
I think it’ll be more like how pilots train – there will be more simulation testing. It’s one thing we don’t take advantage of as much as we could. For example, before a resident does their first gallbladder surgery, they should successfully complete the related simulation module and test before they go into the OR.
3. What do you want residents to remember most about their time with you?
That there is a need for trauma surgeons. I started the surgical critical care fellowship to help address that shortage.
For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a trauma surgeon is when I receive a thank you note, a call, an email or a message on social media saying, “Dr. Petrey, you really made a difference in my life because I remember the day you taught me something and I’ve never forgotten that day.” That just touches my heart. I have job titles, publications and awards, but hearing that I really made a difference in somebody’s life and that they remember what I taught them moves me greatly.
4. If you could have any other job, what would it be and why?
I love my job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love everyone I work with at Baylor University Medical Center. I think hospital administration or something in that realm would be interesting and would also be a way for me to make a difference. But regardless, I’d always want to have teaching as part of my life.
In fact, I was a junior high school teacher briefly when my dad got sick between college and medical school. I taught eighth grade for half a year and high school chemistry summer school. I even had the opportunity to have my younger brother as a student one semester, although he didn’t see it as an opportunity.
5. What is the most interesting thing about your career or that has happened in your career?
I was the first female general, trauma and critical care surgeon on medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center in 2001. I am currently the past president (Chief of Staff) of the medical staff, and I was fortunate to be one of the first group of medical staff officers that were all women. Drs. Carolyn Quan, Amy Wilson and Sharon Bakos were my co-officers in 2017.
Also, my colleagues often mention that during the past few years, I was the attending surgeon on-call when most of Dallas-Fort Worth’s major disasters took place. Some suggest it’s more than a coincidence, suggesting that I have some sort of a “dark cloud” hanging over me during call because my shifts seem to be busier than others.
In fact, recently, I was part of TIME magazine’s interactive photo mural project about guns in America along with other members of the Baylor University Medical Center trauma team due our role in the 2016 downtown Dallas police shooting.