Life after surgery? Abcarian Lecturer takes bold leap to pursue a second career

Patricia L. Roberts, MD, FACS, FASCRS
Patricia L. Roberts, MD, FACS, FASCRS

After 32 years at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, Burlington, MA, Patricia L. Roberts, MD, FACS, FASCRS, resigned earlier this year from her position as chair, department of surgery, and senior staff surgeon, the department of colon and rectal surgery. It would be easy to assume that after a long and distinguished tenure, Dr. Roberts is retiring. Wrong. She’s making plans for her next career.

Dr. Roberts will discuss her path to a new career and offer advice to her surgical colleagues who might harbor dreams of a similar journey during Tuesday morning’s Herand Abcarian Lecture: How to Navigate a Second Career in Surgery.

“Like most of us, I took a very linear path through medicine and surgery—from college to medical school to residency to fellowship to practice,” Dr. Roberts said. “My husband, who is also a surgeon, took a more circuitous journey. He did a couple years of research, got his master’s in public health, got an MBA [master of business administration], did a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and then settled into his surgical career.”

Throughout their marriage, Dr. Roberts has regularly mused to her husband that she might one day pursue a career other than surgery.

“As much as I talked and thought about it, though, the practice of surgery and being chair of surgery was so all-consuming that I could never really explore or plan what I actually might do next,” she said. “Finally, after listening to me talk about it for the past 30 years, my husband told me that it was time to either just do it or stop dreaming about it.”

Although Dr. Roberts hasn’t definitively decided what her second career will be, she is taking the time to explore her interests and see where they lead her.

The thought of a second career may not have occurred to many surgeons, but Dr. Roberts believes that times are changing, and the traditional education-career-retire paradigm will shift to the point that second and even third careers will eventually become more common.

“A big part of what will continue to drive that change is the fact that we are living longer, healthier lives with more people continuing to work well into their 70s and 80s,” Dr. Roberts said. “Looking at the landscape of life, young people living today have a good chance of living to be 100 years old. So if people start in one career, there’s a very good chance they’ll be doing something else or have several careers over the course of their lifetimes.”

Her advice to surgeons, particularly those beginning their careers, is that it’s never too soon to think about and start planning for life after surgery.

“We spend a decade planning and training to be a surgeon, and I think we have to start to reflect a little bit on the latter part of our career or what a second career is going to be, and plan for that in the same way,” Dr. Roberts said. “Whether you’re just coming out of residency or fellowship or an older surgeon, it’s important to think about both your short- and long-term goals and, every few years or so, reevaluate those goals and look at where you are, where you want to be, and what your steps are to get there.”

The Herand Abcarian Lecture was established by the Chicago Society of Colon and Rectal Surgery in 2006 to honor this colon and rectal surgeon and to address issues of relevance to the surgical community at-large and focus on emerging issues in surgery.

Herand Abcarian Lecture

How to Navigate a Second Career in Surgery
Patricia L. Roberts, MD, FACS, FASCRS
8:00–9:00 am, Tuesday
Moscone Center West, Ballroom