When Discoveries Don’t Meet Expectations

On his first day of surgical rotation at the Medical College of Georgia, Dr. George Fuhrman says he embraced the beauty of surgery. “It just made so much sense,” Fuhrman says. “Identify the problem, operate, problem solved.”

Becoming a problem solver, surgical-style, takes a lot of preparation. After he finished medical school, Fuhrman completed an internship and residency at Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida, followed by a fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

In 1994, he joined Ochsner Medical Center and served as section head for general surgery, director of the Tansy Breast Center and residency director for the department of surgery.

An alumnus of Mercer College, Fuhrman returned to Georgia after Hurricane Katrina and served as program director for surgery at Atlanta Medical Center.

He rejoined Ochsner in 2012, where in addition to performing surgery he serves as program director for the general surgery residency program. Ochsner’s surgical program draws interested medical school graduates from all over, Fuhrman says. Each year the hospital receives between 700 and 800 applications for its five surgical residency spots.

“Ochsner has always been at a very, very high level,” Fuhrman says. The hospital’s combination of a multi-specialty clinic and a teaching program puts it among the best in the country. A great believer in education, Fuhrman is a member of a national committee that reviews surgical residency programs in the United States. Annually, only about 6 percent of the country’s 20,000 medical school graduates go into surgical training.

In addition, hundreds of graduates from foreign medical schools want to do their surgical residencies in a U.S. hospital. The few who achieve that goal are top-notch students, Fuhrman says. They have had to jump through a series of difficult hoops.

During his years of practice, Fuhrman has seen great changes in the field of surgery. Laparoscopy, a minimally invasive surgical technique, came into use during the last year of his residency. And such developments as lymph node mapping, for example, make cancer surgery much less radical. Years ago, “the only thing we knew to do was operate,” he says. Now, doctors combine treatments and use more targeted therapies.

After performing thousands of surgeries, Fuhrman says his toughest cases are the ones where what he discovers during surgery doesn’t match up with what he expected. “Either the surgery becomes more extensive, or it gets aborted,” he says. Then comes the difficult task of explaining to a patient why his or her medical problem is more complicated than diagnostic testing indicated.

Fuhrman has learned that being diagnosed with cancer is frightening for most people. Sitting down with patients and explaining their treatment options reduces the panic that can make it harder to fight the disease. “Knowledge is a very popular strategy for managing anxiety and fear,” he says.

Patients also fare better thanks to the way physicians from a variety of specialties work together as a team to treat cancer, Fuhrman says. Another plus is that hospitals like Ochsner offer cutting-edge cancer treatment, so people don’t have to incur the expense and disruption of traveling out of state.

Fuhrman says he has no plans to retire anytime soon. He and his wife have three daughters, and he enjoys spending time with his family and “anything New Orleans” – music, food, the Saints and the Pelicans. He doesn’t have much time to spend on those pursuits. “I work a lot,” he says.

Ochsner Medical Center
In practice 19 years
Medical College of Georgia – 1986
Native of Philadelphia, Penn.