What is it like to be a surgeon in 2020?

Dr. Margaret Bower in her office, pre-COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Dr. Margaret Bower.

We were able to interview Dr. Margaret Bower, a surgeon at Kaiser Permanente, about the lifestyle of a healthcare worker during a global pandemic. She has managed to build a successful career while balancing her life outside of work. She spends her time taking care of her dog, hanging out with childhood and work friends, or staying in touch with nearby family. 

The Clackamas Print: What’s your job specifically?

Dr. Margaret Bower: I’m a general surgeon with Northwest Permanente Clackamas County.

TCP: How long have you worked there?

Dr. Bower: Just over two years now.

TCP: What do you like most about it and what do you like least?

Dr. Bower: What I like the most is the people that I work with. I get a lot of joy from working with people who care. That’s been a really wonderful experience for me. Least? You know, it’s hard for me to answer that question. I chose my career very carefully and I find a lot of fulfillment in it. I guess sometimes, the things that can be difficult are when you can’t solve a problem.

TCP: Where did you go to school?

Dr. Bower: I did my college at University of California Davis. And then I did my medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia. And I did my residency at New York, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

TCP: How has COVID-19 affected your work?

Dr. Bower: I think COVID affected us, similarly to the way that it affected everyone in that it was a new challenge to work as a group together. We adjusted, as you know, as everyone saw in Oregon, there was the time where elective surgeries were stopped. But we’ve now returned to scheduled surgeries and things like that. So I think the way that COVID has impacted us is a new, kind of a new, I guess challenge is the right word, to work against together. But just like in your day to day life, it’s affected you right? As you go out, now, we wear a mask everywhere, not just in the operating room. And so there are some day to day kind of basics that have changed. But it’s also a new consideration and trying to assess if that’s presently testing for COVID-19 and things like that. So it’s a new medical phenomenon that we’re dealing with.

TCP: Has it changed your outlook on the healthcare field at all?

Dr. Bower: I guess it reaffirmed my feeling that access to care is essential. I do think people who have a health complaint or a concern need to be able to seek care and receive care. And so I really do believe in kind of Kaiser Permanente Northwest access and kind of trying to recruit people so that they seek that care when they need it and get kind of address medical issues as needed. So it reaffirmed my belief that we need physicians, we need nurses, we need hospitals, we need all of that kind of teamwork, to make sure that we can take care of our families, our friends.

TCP: Do you think that we are taking enough precautions for COVID-19? And what would you change if not?

Dr. Bower: Yeah, I think that, at least within the Kaiser Permanente system, that our administration has done a stellar job of staying up to date on national recommendations and communicating with us what’s been recommended, and making sure that we’re standing and holding to that standard of care. So I’ve felt very lucky, in fact, to be a part of the organization, because they’re protecting us, and by protecting us, also protecting our patients.

So I’ve been very glad for that.

TCP: What advice would you give to someone who’s looking into this career?

Dr. Bower: I think the best advice that I can give someone is that when I was starting, I felt that I had a calling to this. I felt like I was pulled to this, that this is what I was meant to do. And there are challenges, just like in any other career, but there are certainly a lot of ways that I feel fulfilled. And so I do think that taking care of your community, taking care of somebody’s family member, one of the greatest gifts and responsibilities that we can have. And so I encourage others, as you know, to seek out a career in this that they feel pulled toward it. Because I do feel that it’s a place where you feel like you’re doing good.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.