Stories Talk | Presentation Skills and Effective Storytelling
George Georgakis, the oncological surgeon and researcher, has fought for his dream: he helps people in their most critical moments. Thanks to his honesty and dedication, he enchants his partners and colleagues, who have trusted him for many years firmly and unwaveringly.
By Mia Kollia
"I grew up in Lefkada and moved to Athens to study Medicine. Already in my second year of school, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon - I loved it. In the fifth year, through a student exchange program, I went to Germany for a month, and there I realized that things were different - further education was more professional. That's how I understood that I had to do my specialty abroad. At one point, I went to Houston to attend a program and met many colleagues at the MD Anderson Cancer Center there. Then I started to get passionate about research. Until then, I hadn't thought of dealing with cancer, but finally, with a professor, we started researching Hodgkin's disease, a type of lymphoma. The fact that we could find a new drug for this disease excited me, and I worked non-stop. After four years, when the project I was on ended, I focused on oncology surgery in America, and since then, I haven't stopped".
Is there such a thing as talent in Medicine?
A talented person does something that no one else can do. Ronaldo has talent. I don't have talent, but I love my job; it gives me joy that motivates me. A person may have a particular inclination, but generally, if someone works hard and has a vision, he will succeed. During the years I was in the laboratory, I got bored. I wanted to be a surgeon deep down. But I understood that this, too, was a means that would lead me to my final goal. When I started working as a surgeon in Connecticut, I remember waiting for the traffic light and thinking, "Great, I'm going to work!" Loving the work you do is critical to success.
Have you been working in the same hospital all these years?
I started a residency at the University of Massachusetts in 2007, where I stayed for a year. Then I went to the University of Connecticut for six years and finished my major. After that, I subspecialized for two years in Pittsburgh, where I went with my wife, whom I had met in the meantime. After finishing there, I went to New York University Hospital and Stony Brook University Hospital, where I continued working. I am fortunate because apart from the subject of my work, which I am passionate about, I also have excellent cooperation with my colleagues. We are a team striving for the same goal, without competition - which is very important.
How do you deal with medical errors?
Medical error is not something you can 100% avoid. The doctor must always take steps to keep the patient safe and thus dramatically reduces the chance of medical error. For example, in surgery, there can be some complications. If you have ensured that there are safety precautions and you are careful, then you will manage to correct any problem.
Does the doctor's proper reaction affect how caring or competent he is?
In the States, if the doctor makes a mistake, the patient will sue him; there is a standard of care that differs from state to state and identifies if the doctor took all the necessary steps to assist and help his patient. A committee of doctors oversees the final conclusio. Usually, if a doctor is accused of negligence, he must always adhere to the standard of care. In surgery, you must constantly double-check every step you take to reduce the possibility of medical error. Also, before any surgery, you must have explained precisely to the patient the risks, the alternatives, and the limits of what you can do. In Greece, the patient often does not want to hear these critical facts from the doctor, which I consider wrong. The patient must know the chances of success in his surgery and then make his final decision.
In Medicine, developments are constant. How difficult is this for a doctor who needs to be constantly updated?
Medicine is a profession you sacrifice your life to from the moment you start studying it. When I was at university, Eleni Giamarellou was my professor, and I remember her telling us, "what I am teaching you now has not yet been documented." At the time, it seemed excessive. But later, as I've written books myself, I understood. By the time you gather the information you need for the book, then proofread and publish it, 2-3 years have already passed. During this time, many developments and knowledge will have been added. The doctor must constantly study and learn. Unfortunately, in Greece, the knowledge you get is limited, making it very difficult for me when I went to America. There they learn things they need immediately. In other words, because they know how fast developments run, they don't sit and overanalyze, which gets you ahead. In the back of your mind, you are learning something that will change, and you focus on more meaningful and valuable issues.
What is your biggest professional dream?
I practice surgical oncology, and my job is to remove cancer from the liver, pancreas, or stomach. Doctors have been doing this same procedure since ancient times. Nowadays, the most important thing a doctor can do - and heal even more people - is research, where many fields exist. For example, 80% of patients with melanoma get treatment because of immunotherapy. Before 2010, this treatment did not exist, so mortality rates were high. This development is due to research. I want to contribute as much as possible in my field through research.
As a doctor, you face difficult situations: can you keep an emotional distance?
No, I can't; sometimes, I get distraught. But, especially with some patients, I bond more. It's a job, and I have to find a balance. In the States, doctors are much more distant. For example, once, I was troubled and told my supervisor about a patient who would not recover; he replied, "and why do you blame yourself for that?" Of course, you are not to blame for the patient's condition, but you are doing your best to help him. Anyway, what he told me made me feel better then, but generally, it's a complicated emotional state to handle.