Can a surgeon make a good president?

Story highlights

  • Sreedhar Potarazu: Ben Carson is leading in the polls; what if our next president is a doctor?
  • Consider the skills surgeons develop in their careers that might make them ideal for the Oval Office

Sreedhar Potarazu, an ophthalmologist and entrepreneur, is the founder and CEO of VitalSpring Technologies Inc., a software company focused on providing employers with applications to aid in purchasing health care. He is the author of "Get Off the Dime: The Secret of Changing Who Pays for Your Health Care." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Lawyers become presidents. So do military leaders. Occasionally, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

And how about doctors? Nah.
The closest we came to having a medical professional as president was with William Henry Harrison, who attended medical school for a couple of years before dropping out and joining the military. Harrison died of pneumonia in 1841 a month after he took the presidential oath. Maybe he should have stayed in medical school.
    Sreedhar Potarazu
    However, times may be changing. In this presidential race, there are two doctors who hope to enter the White House: Dr. Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, and Dr. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist who serves as the junior senator from Kentucky.
    Both are campaigning to be the Republican nominee, and with Carson leading in some polls, the notion that the next commander in chief will be "Dr. President" is hardly farfetched.
    I've been reflecting on why Carson, a very accomplished physician, would want to leave his profession to take on a job that would appear to have no relation whatsoever to his chosen career.
    Many doctors, myself included, have evolved from the day-to-day practice of medicine to the practice of health care. But the presidency is a much bigger leap. Running a country is not something we surgeons are trained to do. Or is it? Maybe surgeons have been training to be president without even knowing it. Maybe we are perfect for the job.
    Consider the skills surgeons develop in their careers that might make them ideal for the Oval Office. These are the lessons I learned over the years although I am no longer operating on patients.

    1. Dealing with intense pressure

    No matter how many procedures a surgeon performs, no two operations are ever the same. Any surgeon will tell you that the ability to operate under enormous pressure, when a patient's life is totally in his hands, is a key part of his profession.
    He must be fully prepared to address any complication, to assimilate all the knowledge he has gained in previous experiences and apply it to a surprise development in nanoseconds -- often with no time to consult with others.
    The right decision has to be made immediately because a life is at stake. That kind of decision-making experience can come in handy in the Oval Office.

    2. Instilling confidence in others

    Sometimes a surgery does not go as planned. You might inadvertently cut a blood vessel or a nerve, or the tissue might not respond as anticipated. But everyone else in that operating room -- the nurses, the anesthesiologist, the patient as well as the family waiting outside -- is relying on you, the surgeon, to execute with absolute precision. That's why surgeons, even when they're surprised or apprehensive, rarely reveal their emotions.
    We are trained to instill confidence and hope -- with a sense of pragmatism, of course. In this way, the president of the United States is very much like a surgeon. Even in the most desperate situation, the president has to instill confidence and hope.
    Is anyone better trained for this than a surgeon is?

    3. Enduring grueling moments

    Eight years ago, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated over who was better suited to take a 3 a.m. phone call. If either of them had been a surgeon, there would have been no debate at all. Doctors learn to sleep fast.
    Carson has performed surgeries that have gone on for countless hours, procedures that require phenomenal physical endurance and emotional composure. There is no sleep for the weary, no bailing out until the job is finished, and it takes years to develop this degree of focus and concentration.

    4. Leading a team of experts

    The best surgeons -- and Carson is as good as they come -- often lead multidisciplinary teams that have to create a plan and then execute on it. That was the case in Carson's separation of conjoined twins, and in numerous other complex surgeries he's performed.
    A chief surgeon must plumb the knowledge of the experts who work with him, then take the helm and give clear and concise directions on how to execute a plan. It's not unlike the way a seasoned politician would work with Cabinet members and advisers. In the operating room, the surgeon is the commander in chief.

    5. Gaining experience with practice

    This is where Carson may come up short. Patients looking for the best surgical outcomes often find that the best doctors are not necessarily the ones from the best medical schools, but the ones who perform their procedures most. Experience leads to proficiency, and though Carson has a wealth of experience in surgery, he has none at being president -- or in politics whatsoever.
    Ben Carson, unlike Sen. Paul, has not learned to be politically adept. The presidency is not like a medical internship or residency, where you learn under somebody's guidance. You can't walk into the Oval Office and figure things out as you go. Dr. Carson's lack of political experience could have a negative effect on how President Carson makes critical decisions.
    Surgeons develop numerous skills in their careers that could be helpful in the White House, but they also have a reputation for being brash. The latest rant by Carson against the media for what he calls a witch hunt and his apparent issues with rage during childhood are something of a concern.
    It's not so uncommon to witness some surgeons who snap under pressure when the heat in the kitchen is turned up.
    We can only hope that if a surgeon ever becomes president, he or she will be able keep his cool under stressful situations and listen to advice and suggestions, assimilating them into decisions.
    The jury is still out as to whether Dr. Carson has what it takes to take the leap from the operating room to the Oval Office.