Home » Random thoughts » Is Left-Handedness a Handicap for Training in Surgery?

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.

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:

1. 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.

2. Learn to tie knots right handed first, since you’re going to learn to tie with both anyway.

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

4. 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.

5. 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,

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🙂 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Is Left-Handedness a Handicap for Training in Surgery?

  1. Thank you soooooo much sir……. this is d question which I really wants to ask especially to surgeons from d very begining of my medical school but due to hesitation I never asked… I m also a left handed person and I usually thinks that can I be able to take surgical branch like gynecology or not due to all these prblms u mentioned above…..in ur this blog…. really thankss alot sir……..

  2. My story resembles you a bit sir.I am a left handed person who writes by my right hand.Like you ,I was forced to use my right hand for writing as well for the other activities as well. In my case I do write by my right hand but do all my stuff with left because that is my preferred hand.
    As a medical student I did thought of being a surgeon but since I couldn’t tie (‘the easiest of all”,as proclaimed by the right handed med student 😉 )the knots,I stopped thinking about it.
    As they say ,” Its not only the ability but also the right attitude that matters to buy success”.
    🙂
    We are proud of you sir.You are a good example for all the left handed med students who really wanna be a surgeon.

    • That is the problem in our society. As the right hand is considered ‘holy’, everyone wants you to use that. Initially things were very difficult for me as well but the constant support of my well wishers helped me tide over this problem and now when I look back, I really don’t consider it as a handicap. In fact I stand out with my unique way of writing and every now and then, people click my pictures while writing.

      • This is a global phenomenon doctor……… I have heard stories of lots of famous people who were forcibly converted to right handed, and they developed serious mental problems…… An example is King George VI (1895-1952), the British monarch at the time of our Independence in 1947……. He was born left handed, but was forcibly converted to right handed during his childhood, thus making him a stutterer.

  3. Rohan…one’s dedication and focus helps him/her. Your left-handedness did not deter your career aspiration in surgery. All the Best Doc.

  4. Pingback: Shh!! Momma's Writing! | Being Left-Handed in a Right-Handed World

  5. Wow thanks doc! My anxiety on thus issue is finally abated after reading about your experiences as a left handed surgeon. Those are some simple yet very smart suggestions. Wilk surely keep thise in mind. Thank you again 🙂

  6. I’m grateful for this post too. I am still looking for info about left handed surgeons but it is not too easy. I am also left handed, and I would love to become a surgeon. I am at the end of medical studies. Could you contact me via e-mail dr Rohan ? I have some questions and I would be grateful for your answers.

  7. I was jus searching for articles on whether left handed people can become surgeons and found your blog sir! I never thought u were left handed ( I am from dams). I am leftie who writes with right,uses scissors with and lleft n sutures with right. When in mbbs every1 got annoyed with teaching me in ot! I am jus confused if I can take surgery ?? :/

  8. Pingback: My article on “Is Left Handedness a handicap in Surgical Training” published in Health Spectrum Magazine | Random Reflections of a Breast Surgeon

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