Courage is a Choice

Working with Spinal Surgeons was the career that gifted the understanding of courage

(~4 minute read.)

Peta Sitcheff was forced to press pause on life following a 14 year career working with Melbourne’s spinal surgeons in the relentless world of medical device sales.  The year that followed was her beautiful mess.  Messy, because she was emotionally broken.  Beautiful, because it taught her the lessons required to rebuild a happier more fulfilling life. 

Today as a speaker, facilitator & Sales & Career performance coach, Peta inspires teams & grows businesses, always advocating for more sustainable professional practices that minimize burnout.  

Today, Peta is our guest blogger.

In her own words ...

Knowing my place, I stood patiently staring at the grainy black & white screen.

“Shoot!,” the masked spinal surgeon instructed.  His signal for the radiographer to hit the yellow button on the mobile X-ray machine cowering over the patient.  The image validated his coordinates, allowing him to edge his sharp implement a little further through the slim funnel of bone. 

“Shoot!,” he called again.  This time, snapping me out of my hunger induced haze.  My attention alerted to the screen.  

Lunch would have to wait.  “What level is this spinal fusion again?,” I thought to myself, inspecting the screen more closely.  

On paper, the patient had consented a L3-4 lumbar spinal fusion.  However, this wasn’t what I was looking at.  Suddenly, I realised the metal instrument was coercing its way through the wrong level, L2. 

“Surely, he will realise.  Maybe I missed something?,” I remember thinking with more doubt than I was comfortable with.  

Glancing around the operating room, I could feel heated, prickly panic creeping up my neck. Suddenly, I realised the rest of the surgical team was preoccupied.  

I had two options.  Stay quiet & let the surgeon proceed at the wrong level only to deal with the consequences later.  Or, confront his pressure cooker temperament before passing the “point of no return.”  The pivotal moment that would see the patient needing a much larger operation to correct the mistake.  

Patient before sale.  That was the ethos my team & I lived by.  Our unwavering values offered strength to our decision-making in our roles as Medical Device sales representatives.  The fear in confronting a surgeon always insignificant in comparison to the consequences the patient & surgeon would experience if the error went unnoticed. 

This wasn’t about me.  I had to conquer my fear.  Fast.  

Taking a deep breath, I stood behind the surgeon & took a step closer.  “Doctor?,” I said quietly, “can I confirm we are doing an L3-4 fusion?” He inspected the screen & yanked the instrument from the bone. 

“Thank you,” he said wearily, “I’ve been operating since 2am.”

I could feel the relief flow through me as the infallibility of human nature rang true.  Even masked spinal surgeons tire & make mistakes.  

In the clinical setting, surgeons are top of the tree.  Their daily reality beyond comprehension for most.  Few consider, that beyond the veneer of the title, framed qualifications & life-saving hands, lies a human being as vulnerable as the rest of us.  

A surgeon works for their patient.  The vulnerable human beneath a sea of sterile blue drapes relying on their OR team having their back & not being intimidated by ego or influenced by political plays.  The cost of that intimidation, high. 

Our unwavering values offered strength to our
decision-making …

When I started in the industry 18 years ago, I remember thinking, “what could I ever tell a surgeon they didn’t already know?”  I felt an exhilarating combination of naïve, curious & petrified as I embarked on this new professional adventure.

Time quickly taught me this workplace was no place for pretence.  My new world was complex & intense.  The only way I would succeed was by being true to myself.  Goodness knows there was no energy to spare trying to be someone I wasn’t.  

Admitting what I didn’t know, continually learning & delivering on my commitments, was my plan.  Impressing through words I didn’t understand far less important than what I stood for.  Unbeknownst to me, I was laying the foundation for the legacy I would eventually leave.  

Threads of authenticity & trust wove their way through my connections & conversations, bringing confidence to my decision making & conviction to my actions.  All the time delicately nurturing my budding courage.  

Selling prosthesis to spinal surgeons & servicing their surgeries meant living in a constant state of uncertainty.  There was no time to dwell on the fear of the unknown, the pace was too fast.  Nor could you become complacent with the known.  Familiar episodes were never long enough.

When uncertainty is your homeostatic state, success is dependent on the choices you make.

You see, courage is a choice.  

A choice to turn left away from fear, or right & look fear squarely in the eye.  To choose to separate person from process & make the appropriate decision based on the information you have at the time.  Realising you are bigger than the fear you can’t physically touch, is to calmly respond in the moments when the scab is ripped off your vulnerability & your emotions laid bare for all to see.

Threads of authenticity & trust wove their way through my connections & conversations …

Whether you were managing volatile personalities under extreme stress, navigating clinical puzzles over an oozing wound or balancing the compounding pressure of alchemised corporate & clinical worlds.  Life must go on.  The relentless demands never stop. 

Four years ago, I made the choice to turn left & leave that life behind.  Without a safety net.  My wellbeing & that of my 10-year-old son depended on it.  

It was a grieving process.  One I made sense of through the new love of my life, my writing.

Today life is very different.  However, there is a gift from the old that I accept graciously, my courage.  The ecosystem of inner strength linking my heart & mind that relies on me throwing it into uncertainty from time to time to be fed. 

And each time I do, I survive. 

It’s my elixir to leading an inspired & courageous life.

If you’d like to connect further with Peta, you can do so as follows:

  • e.
  • insta. @petasitcheff
  • LI. Peta Sitcheff
  • FB. @petasitcheff

I met Peta virtually, as is the case for many of us during this pandemic. Her words bounced off the screen; her passion for authenticity and integrity clearly evident.

Peta has recently published a book of her experience working in the medical device sales industry & subsequent personal transformation – My Beautiful Mess – living through burnout & rediscovering me – an inspiring story of many lessons, of self-awareness, growth and courage. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Print & ebook available at Amazon, Booktopia or via


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