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The Good Luck Rituals of Medical Experts

UW Medicine | The Huddle| January 20, 2020

Dr. Raymond Yeung and Yeung shoes

Surgeon Raymond Yeung, MD (left), and his lucky shoes
Credit: Clare McLean / Courtesy Raymond Yeung

Whether it’s delivering a baby, operating on a patient or something else in-between, UW Medicine providers accomplish some pretty amazing things on a daily basis. But how do they get themselves in the right headspace for procedures both big and small — and what do they do when it’s all over?

Enter the medical ritual.

Like professional athletes who go through special game-day prep to get in the zone, medical experts have their own rituals, routines and good luck tokens, too. Here are a few ways providers prepare themselves for the always-important task of caring for their patients and how they celebrate a job well done.

Sarah Prager, MD, MAS, division chief of family planning

“I like to high five with the whole team before a case — particularly a difficult case. Sports literature shows teams that high five perform better, so I’ve adopted that. I think it gets everyone on the same page, feeling good and feeling like a team.”

Genevieve Neal-Perry, MD, PhD, division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility

“Following an embryo transfer during IVF treatment, I give the patient’s belly a quick rub and then gently squeeze the hand of the patient or couple as a token of good luck for that embryo to implant.”

Judy Chen, MD, FACS, FASMBS, bariatric surgeon

“When I’m preparing for surgery, I eat a protein-based small meal and empty my bladder. There are no breaks for surgeons. I also mentally run through my operative plans so I will have a relaxed and effortless performance. The trust in my skills brings joy to every operation. After every surgery, I debrief with all of the team members to work on communication and improvements. In addition, lots of stretching is also essential for a laparoscopic surgeon. Ergonomics are key, but there are times that operating is equally physically demanding as it is mentally.”

Jane Hitti, MD, MPH, obstetrician-gynecologist

“Before a C-section, in the operating room, I always touch my patient’s hand, look into her eyes and tell her that we will take very good care of her and her baby. That moment of connection just before surgery starts is really important to me.”

Raymond Yeung, MD, FRCS(C), FACS, surgeon and founder of UW Medicine Liver Tumor Clinic

“I’ve worn the same pair of shoes since fellowship. They’re dress shoes, so not what you would expect for the OR, but they were really comfortable. When they finally fall apart, I will retire and have them bronzed.”

Elizabeth Swisher, MD, division chief of gynecologic oncology

“We invite our chemotherapy patients to ring a bell after they complete their last cycle of chemo.”

Heath Miller, MD, gynecological surgeon

“My ‘ritual’ is following up with patients personally. This is not a ritual per se but good practice — trying to be a good doctor.”

Meghan Flanagan, MD, MPH, breast surgeon

“I don’t really have any rituals, but I always wear compression socks in the operating room to avoid getting varicose veins.”

Heather Ranney, CNM, WHNP, chief of midwifery at UW Medical Center – Montlake

“Before a delivery, I always think/ask/say a little prayer that my mind and hands have the knowledge and skills to safely deliver the baby and keep mom safe. A little mantra feels good, and that’s mine.”

Venu Pillarisetty, MD, FACS, surgical oncologist

“The only thing I tend to do before difficult cases is have some lines from Jay-Z’s song ‘What More Can I Say’ run through my head.”

Jorge Reyes, MD, chief of transplant surgery

“At the time of liver transplant in the OR, and as we are sewing in the new liver graft, I prepare the anesthesia team for the moment of completion of the vascular connections and removing the clamps which would allow for the patient’s blood to perfuse the new organ. This is a rather risky and sometimes unpredictable moment in the transplant operation. Though we are preparing for this moment with anesthesia, things can go wrong, the patient’s blood pressure may drop, the heart rhythm may become irregular, the heart could stop.

Because of this unpredictability I alert the anesthesia team when we are minutes from unclamping, then when we are seconds from doing so by saying, “30 seconds, are you ready? Unclamping now. God be with them.” At this moment, with years of preparation, waiting for the organ donor offer and setting up the transplant (one of the biggest operations ever devised), there is only so much you can do. Then it is in God’s hands, and you wait and see.”

Mary Lou Kopas, MN, CNM, chief of midwifery at UW Medical Center – Northwest

“They play Brahms’s lullaby, over the intercom system whenever a baby is born. It’s an old tradition that they have not let go.”