Dr. Victoria Samuels is very proud of her 20-year-old daughter, now in her third year at New York University. But, Samuels is actually relieved that her daughter is pursuing international law and not medicine.
“With medicine, you can’t go into it because your mother is a doctor or you think your parents are going to be happy,” she says. “Being a doctor can be a grind, emotionally, physically and spiritually. You have to go into it because there’s absolutely nothing else you can think of doing. It has to be something you absolutely love.”
For Samuels, a surgeon in L+M’s neurosurgery department, that’s exactly how she felt during her years in school. A love of science led to a master’s degree in cell biology and then to a medical degree from the University of Florida at Gainesville.
“And then,” she says, “I fell in love with neurosurgery.”
Samuels did her residency at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, then moved to Columbia, SC, where she worked for 20 years building a neurosurgery practice that grew from a single neurosurgeon (herself) to six surgeons and three operating rooms dedicated to neurosurgery.
Three years ago, Samuels came to New London and joined Drs. Patrick Doherty and Stanley Pugsley in L+M’s neurosurgery department. She made the move to be closer to her daughter, but also to get away from an exhausting number of trauma cases she was handling in South Carolina, sometimes covering several different hospital emergency rooms at the same time over a weekend.
“Our department here at L+M is exceptional for the size of our hospital,” Samuels says. “In fact, there are many parts of the country, due to malpractice insurance, etc., where there are no neurosurgeons. Patients in those areas have to be air-lifted sometimes an hour or two away, which markedly decreases their chances of survival.”
Samuels says her favorite surgical work – and her specific expertise – is brain tumors. “I also do spine work, spine tumors, herniated discs and lumbar fusions,” she said.
But there’s something beyond the mechanics of the job that Samuels loves about her work, and it’s why she decided earlier in her career to become a surgeon and not a researcher, which she also considered.
“I love the patient interaction,” she says. “It’s part of our work – not just the technical aspects of surgery and diagnosing and treating diseases, but also the compassion and understanding, of taking care of someone who may be dying or who is in a coma. That’s part of our job.
“It’s interesting,” Samuels continued, “that when someone is seriously ill, they really don’t have time to put on a face. They are raw. They’re honest. They’re who they are, and they will tell you, ‘I’m scared,’ or “I need help.’ I can’t cure everything, but what I can do is be compassionate and understanding and give them some comfort with what they’re going through.”
After a long day, Samuels says she enjoys buying hummus and tabouli from Saeed’s International Market on Ocean Avenue and eating it for dinner as she relaxes at home in New London. In her free time, she enjoys collecting and growing orchids, playing the flute, riding her bicycle and reading books – “mainly history and philosophy,” she adds.
In these ways, Samuels sees a connection between her personal life and her profession: it’s a thirst for knowledge.
“Part of the beauty of neurosurgery is there is still so much we don’t know,” Samuels says. “If you haven’t read a journal in a year, shame on you. You have to keep up. You have to go to the conferences and see the new and different procedures. In my field, I have to keep learning and growing. And it’s part of what makes it all fun.”
To learn more about Dr. Samuels, click here.