The Reality of Trauma: Surgeon Stancie Rhodes Sets the Record Straight

Drs. Meredith Grey and Miranda Bailey – both fictional characters on the hit ABC television show Grey’s Anatomy – caused this generation to take notice of female surgeons. While their on-screen accomplishments are long and impressive, let’s remember…it’s make-believe. This is real life. And if you want to be a surgeon, Dr. Stancie Rhodes of HCA’s Trident Medical Center, can fill you in on what it takes. She would know – her specialty is in trauma.

Dr. Rhodes, a giant among giants in the world of surgery, but not much taller than 5-feet, has served as one of the trauma surgeons at the Charleston, S.C.-based hospital – which was recently designated a Level II Trauma program – since January.  The George Washington Medical School educated physician and training product of Shock Trauma Center, one of the premier trauma programs in the nation, chose the surgical specialty after realizing it was a good fit.

Surgery “attracts a particular personality,” the avid triathlete said – one she believes she had and would be valuable in a surgical environment, where women make up only 19 percent of all surgeons (and 33 percent of all physicians) in the United States.

So, we asked Dr. Rhodes a few questions about being a surgeon, specifically in trauma, and she, like all surgeons, answered the call.

What kind of personality should one have to be a surgeon – a trauma surgeon, at that?

It’s a difficult thing to describe actually. You have to be somewhat aggressive; you have to be confident but not conceited; and in trauma, the best characteristic is to be able to handle pressure. As I have heard from many of my mentors, you have to be able to bring calm and organization to chaos because it’s always chaotic. If you can enter chaos and somehow bring order, direction and everyone together to focus on helping a critically injured patient, that’s what it’s all about. So, if you’re somebody who can enter a really high stress situation and break it down to simple, small bites so that everybody can have a little bite to concentrate on, that’s a characteristic that’s really valuable in trauma.

Why did you choose trauma?

When I first got into the medical field it was through prehospital care – emergency medical services (EMS). My first job was in the ER, as an emergency room technician in New Jersey. I realized I had the personality…the constitution to handle that kind of work. Then I became an emergency medical technician (EMT), volunteering on a first aid squad in the area. So I kind of knew already that emergency medicine was in my path somewhere. I didn’t know if I was going to take the emergency medicine or the surgery route though. And actually, going into medical school, I preemptively decided surgery was not the right profession for me. I had interacted with some of the surgery residents and saw how hard they worked and thought, “Gosh, I don’t want that kind of life – that’s terrible.” But when I was doing my clinical rotations, I discovered that I definitely enjoyed being in the operating room and found myself looking for opportunities to get into the OR. So, that was where the surgery part was born and trauma was a natural extension of what I had done long before medical school. The two together were a good mix.

A day in the life of a trauma surgeon – what’s it like? The good, the bad, and the ugly?

We as trauma surgeons, as many would expect, save a lot of lives of folks that were in a place or situation they should not have been in. You do it and you don’t ask questions. And frankly, we don’t want to know the details; you don’t ever want to have that influence how you treat a patient.  As a surgeon, you always expect the other shoe to drop, always on the lookout for a complication or something that we need to take a step back and fix post-operatively. Once they are discharged, you can finally take a breath and say, “OK. Now I can celebrate.” I’m superstitious like that, I guess. It’s an incredible gift to be able to save someone’s life. It’s an incredible pleasure and honor to be able to do that. That’s what we train for years and years and years for. And to be a part of a team – a new trauma program, but in many ways mature already – that work so well together to provide a high-level of service and care to critically injured patients, it feels good.

This is what it’s like to be a surgeon.

Stancie Rhodes MD

Dr. Stancie Rhodes is triple-board certified in trauma, and the only female trauma surgeon at HCA’s Trident Medical Center.