I know many commentators place "liking" your surgeon as the highest priority. Me, no. All the research consistently shows that the best surgeons - by best I mean the ones who remove all the cancer so you are not the one on five who has to be operated on a second time because cancer cells were missed or your margins were not clear of cancer - is the one who has performed the most surgery. It is a case of practice making as near as perfect as is possible. So ask your surgeon directly - how many lumpectomies or mastectomies have you done or do you perform per year - average is fine. I would always prefer someone who does at least 50 a year regularly or has 500 if a surgeon for 10 years or so. I would also recommend you go to a surgeon if you can who has a speciality in the breast and breast cancer. If they have added qualifications in the breast, also a great sign they are so serious about this surgical speciality that they invest their own time and money into refining expertise.
I place no premium on a surgeon being "nice" or being the sort of person I would like to have a chat over a cup of tea with. I am not looking for someone to be my best friend or to go to the moves with. The ONLY thing that matters to me is proven competence and experience in breast cancer surgery. I do not understand this desire for a smooth bedside manner being a paramount consideration. I could not care if my surgeon is a horror in terms of personality - just so long as he or she is super competent in what I need them to do to save my life, and avoid resurgery and other complications.
I have worked with many brilliant people throughout my life, in universities and research facilities as well as elsewhere. I discovered that it isn't uncommon for the most talented to have poorer social skills. I also found many who had the smoothest and most soothing personal style could use it as a tool to try and make up for lower competence. You can be fortunate and get a surgeon who is both highly competent and has a great manner, but do not make the latter your top priority. Just remember - even the kids being experimented on in Nazi camps spoke highly of the bedside manner of Dr Mengele. Drs can fake their bedside manner and that trait is not the one that has the biggest impact on your survival - their surgical skill, hygiene and experience are.
My other tip is know yourself. Patients come in such different packages. Some people like to know nothing, and simply place themselves in the hands of the experts and do what they recommend. Others like to debate every step of the way and be informed of every detail. Most sit somewhere on this continuum. So understand what you want at your deepest level and do not be afraid to state those needs directly to your surgeon. You have a duty to tell them what you need. Frankly, most are so busy they don't have time to guess.
I also found it helpful in assessing my surgeons competence to test their willingness to share the truths and facts about their practice.I make no bones about this - it is to test them out. I asked the surgeon I chose what his hospital acquired infection rate was. This is a provocative question for any surgeon. If you find they start fudging and making excuses and being unwilling to look you in the eye and freely share this critical health information - instant red flag. The surgeons who behave defensively are ashamed of their results and seek to throw a cover over them. My surgeon looked me in the eye, shared his stats with me without hesitation, including the fact that his infection rates were the second lowest at the hospital where he operated [he was proud - it was obvious - and a great sign] and he added that the only reason he was second, not lowest was because he operated on people in car accidents/emergency situations whereas the surgeon with the lowest rate did not ie., there was a good reason why he was not the lowest. See - he had spent time analysing his stats and thinking about them, which meant he motivated and interested in the issue.
I also asked about his re-section rates for breast cancer, which were also extremely low. This meant he did the job right the first time round. It meant I was not at risk of being the one in five women who have this surgery who need to go back and have a second operation. That was very important to me, but to be extra sure, I gave him written instructions to take more than was technically required and to err on the side of cancer removal rather than breast cosmesis [looks]. My surgeon literally let out a sigh of relief when I said this. I am sure he walks this surgical tightrope with women who wants tiny margins of 1mm margins versus his need to get all the cancer out and have super clear margins. I have a small cancer, largish breasts and I ended up with 12-17mm clear margins. I always keep in mind - I cannot have it all. I cannot have mere 1mm margins and the level of confidence I need that he got it all and avoid resurgery. We need to understand putting the emphasis on breast appearance and small margins has a knock on effect on cancer clearance and resurgery rates.
My surgeon also gave me the name and number of the hospitals Infection Control Manager so I could check independently. See what I mean about being proud of his stats, upfront, willing to share?
My surgeons open response to my confronting questions about his competence in key surgical areas was crucial to me having confidence in him.
Did I "like" him personally? No - but then again I wasn't after a date or looking for a new best friend. Saving my life is a serious business and I wanted to get the best I could in my regional area. I was after a competent, safe surgeon. I don't "like" my Oncologist either in terms of warming to him or wanting to be pals. However he is the most qualified Professor who stays up to date with the latest developments in oncology, I know attends the top international breast cancer conferences [because I looked him up and read his research papers] and he is not a time waster either. I didn't "like"" my Radiation Oncologist either, who I assessed as poorly skilled, untruthful and with a poor bedside manner. Fortunately I did not need him as if I had, I would definitely have chose to have all radiation therapy at a large capital city teaching hospital. It would have cost me time and money but I had zero confidence in the Radiation team at the local hospital. But that is another story.
My message - don't conflate liking or feeling good with a medico with them being any good at their job. The two do not necessarily travel together. IF you can get competence and sympatico, that is great, but if it comes to a choice, select competence over smooth personality every time.