A surgical nurse finds her calling exactly where she left it

Medical graduate finds herself back in the operating room

FoMD Staff - 1 June 2013

Registered nurse Alyssa Cruz found her true calling where she least expected it - right in front of her in the operating room.

Cruz worked as a nurse in vascular surgery but found herself increasingly drawn to health policy and the idea of building relationships with patients. She applied to U of A medical school following the suggestions of her health-care colleagues.

"I actually came into medical school thinking I was going to be a pediatrician or a family doctor. Nothing surgical, at all. That was my number one rule," Cruz emphasized. "Then I had my general surgery rotation. My first day in the wards, first day that I was on call and there for the full day, I fell in love with OR."

To be fair, her first day in the operating room was action packed. Cruz was assigned the role of primary assistant for a last-resort surgery with an elderly patient in critical condition. To her surprise, she found herself actually enjoying being back in the OR in the role of a surgeon.

"That day when I was assisting Dr. [Erika] Haase, it was like time stopped," she said of her first procedure. "All that mattered was the operation. It felt like I was in my element. Something came out of me that I didn't even know was there."

"I was in denial for months," she joked of her love for surgery.

While her first experience with surgery was an overwhelming success, Cruz did collide with the realities of what would become her future career and of the sadness of a patient's passing. She finds comfort in knowing that a successful surgery can give some families the time needed to say goodbye to their loved ones.

"I had never considered this but you can add extra time, even if it's not very much. It can make a world of difference in a patient's life or their family's grieving process, having more time to be hopeful, to be joyful, to enjoy that time that they otherwise wouldn't have had. And I had never imagined that," Cruz said of her final decision to take a general surgery residency. "I'm not sure if other surgeons think of that but it's something that, to me, means so much."

"I think that's what led me from nursing to medical school to a career in surgery. I wanted to give more," Cruz added as she reflected on her career transition. "Medicine shouldn't just be a job, just another profession. It should be how you are going to change the world to make it better than how you found it. Out of all the rotations I had, surgery was the one that gave that to me."

Alyssa Cruz will convocate on June 7 as part of the centennial year MD graduating class and will begin her general surgery residency at the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry in September. She was the president of the Medical Students' Association in 2010-2011 and participated in TEDMED Live, which was part of the medical school's centennial celebrations.