After a brief career on Wall Street, this Bryn Mawr Hospital surgeon
realized his true calling was medicine. The following interview reveals
Dr. Philip Y. (Phil) Pearson’s journey from stock trader to colorectal
surgeon and the passion, empathy and humanity he brings to an exacting
and demanding specialty.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day can be extremely varied which is what makes it fun to be a
colorectal surgeon. Each day varies between a morning and/or afternoon
of office hours, a session of colonoscopies, a sequence of small
anorectal cases in an outpatient center, one or two large laparoscopic
colon surgeries in the Hospital, or a tumor board. Each day during the
week is very different and again, this is what keeps life interesting.
What made you decide to pursue a career in medicine?
After six months of trading stocks on Wall Street, I basically had an
epiphany. I was dissatisfied with the financial world, and in an effort
to figure out what my next step was, I sat down and had a two hour
conversation with my girlfriend about my future.
It was during that talk that lightning struck, and having never even
considered medicine before that moment, I was totally convinced that I
was going to become a doctor. I knew it in my bones.
From that point forward, it was a laborious task to go back and take the
right classes, do the right research, take the MCAT, apply to medical
school, and get in. After 11 more years of education and training, I
started my job here as a colorectal surgeon.
How would you describe Bryn Mawr Hospital?
Bryn Mawr is quite simply a great place to work. It feels like a family
almost everywhere you go, and there are great doctors with excellent
training in almost every specialty you can imagine. And don't get me
started on how great the nurses are -- it’s not called a “magnet
facility” for nothing!
What are the best parts of your job?
Basically, I really enjoy meeting and helping people. Even solving small
problems can lead to a great deal of personal satisfaction. And then of
course when you can remove a cancer or a diseased part of the colon and
say that someone is “cured,” there’s nothing that beats that feeling.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
Surgery can be very humbling. Sometimes even seemingly simple problems
can be very difficult to fix. Diseases as common as peri-rectal
abscesses can recur or take months or years to resolve with multiple
Another challenge of surgery is that sometimes the outcome is truly
life-and-death. I do not say that to demonstrate some kind of “god
complex.” I say that because most surgeons will tell you that they stay
up at night thinking about their sickest patients or the most difficult
upcoming operations. When the stakes are so high, the stress can be
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m very proud to say that within five years of starting this job and
being asked to be the lead clinician to develop a Colorectal Cancer
Program at Bryn Mawr Hospital, we have over $30,000 in donations to the
program, and are preparing to hire a clinical coordinator to assist with
inpatient and outpatient coordination and care.
The month of March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Why is
awareness so important? What should people know about this disease?
Where to begin? First of all, colon cancer is one of the most
preventable cancers in the world. Since the widespread adoption of
flexible colonoscopy as a screening method, the incidence of colon
cancer has actually decreased in this country (as opposed to many other
cancers which are still on the rise). Even when a colon cancer is found,
the treatment is usually fairly straightforward and survival rates are
excellent. People should know that getting a colonoscopy can save your
life, and that the preparation for the study is, as Renee Chennault
Fattah said to me on the air last March, “NOT THAT BAD!”
If you weren’t a physician, what career path would you pursue?
I would have gone to a performing arts high school to study voice and
then pursued a career on Broadway. No joke. I still might do it!
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Despite my preaching about a high fiber, low fat diet, I have an
incredible sweet tooth and have been known to eat junk food on occasion.
Oh well. I’m only human. Do as I say, not as I do, please!
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