From admiring surgeons on TV to becoming one in real life.
Stephen B. Self, M.D., says his interest in becoming a surgeon began when he was still in grade school — watching television. Dr. Self was a big fan of the1970s drama “Medical Center,” with actor Chad Everett playing the charismatic Dr. Joe Gannon.
“Chad Everett was Mr. Cool. He played a surgeon,” Dr. Self said.
Dr. Self graduated from watching surgery on TV to watching operations in real life.
In middle school and high school, he volunteered at the local hospital in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he grew up.
He then became an orderly (now called a personal care assistant), transporting patients, shaving them for surgery and cleaning instruments in the operating room (OR).
Earning a spot in the OR for Kentucky’s first adult heart transplant
“I witnessed a lot of surgeries,” Dr. Self said. “I had a friend whose dad was a heart surgeon in Nashville. I saw open heart surgery. I thought that was just fascinating.”
As a senior medical school student at the University of Louisville, Dr. Self was in the OR for the first heart transplant in an adult in Kentucky. He did the history and physical of the patient, which earned him a spot in the room during the historic surgery.
Dr. Self said it wasn’t the surgeons’ “cool” but their dedication and hard work he admired.
He became a vascular surgeon after completing his residency at the University of Louisville and a fellowship at the University of Florida.
“One thing that is nice about vascular surgery: It is very measurable,” Dr. Self said. “A patient with no circulation in the leg has surgery and then has great circulation. We can actually measure it.”
Patient gratitude brings him satisfaction
More than operating, Dr. Self enjoys interacting with his patients. He’s seen many for years because vascular disease is associated with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that require lifelong management.
“The field is evolving. I get to learn new things and new ways to do things all the time,” he said.
A couple of years ago, Dr. Self had an opportunity to serve the country when he volunteered at the U.S. Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
He treated soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter what their specialty, Dr. Self said, the surgeons pitched in to try to help the soldiers.
“That was a really inspiring experience,” he said. “Everybody there works together no matter what.”
Dr. Self met his wife, Mary, in medical school. She is an endocrinologist. They have three children, two daughters and a son. They are now grown, making the Selfs empty-nesters.
The couple is University of Louisville football and basketball fans, holding season tickets to both. They also enjoy traveling, especially to national parks, and are taking up golf together.
After more than three decades as a successful vascular surgeon, Dr. Self says he still loves his job.
“Satisfaction comes from the gratitude of my patients,” Dr. Self said. “That is probably what keeps you going.”