5 Questions with a Left-Handed Surgeon

By Sarah Garcia - August 13, 2020

For International Left-Handers Day, we spoke with Dr. Lary Robinson, a thoracic surgeon at Moffitt Cancer Center who just happens to be left-handed. In fact, he comes from a long line of left-handers – his father and his grandfather both were, too. Here he talks all about what it’s like to be a part of the only 10% of left-handers making up our world’s population.

Robinson poses during a fencing match at the University of Kansas in 1965.

What are some advantages of being left-handed?
Most people think we must have a lot of disadvantages, but there really are some advantages. I think as a left-hander you have a greater capability to do more things with both hands. A lot of us may prefer to use our dominant hand, but most left-handed people are able to do almost everything with either hand. I can eat with my right hand. I can use it in the operating room whenever necessary. I frequently sew stitches right-handed or left-handed, which always surprised the surgical scrub nurses. It certainly gave me the upper hand when I fenced in college – your opponent is used to right-handed opponents, so everything is kind of backwards when fencing a left-hander. You definitely have an advantage.

Robinson in the lab at Moffitt Cancer Center.

How about disadvantages?
Almost everything in our world is suited toward right-handed people. The toilet paper is on the wrong side of the commode for lefties. The handle on a drinking fountain is always on the right. People always assume you want to sit at the end of the dinner table so you don’t bump elbows. I play a little guitar and strings are always set up for right-handed people. It’s sort of a cross you bear, but most of us [left-handers] have gotten quite used to it. 

As a surgeon, is there anything you have to do differently in the operating room?
When I went through my nine years of residency, nothing was set up differently to accommodate being left-handed – they don’t really make any changes in the operating room, so that’s how you learn to operate in a right-hander’s world. The scrub nurses may try to put your left glove on first, knowing that you’re left-handed, but that’s about it.

Robinson at the piano bar.
Robinson in the summer of 1965 when he played at the piano bar at Tan-Tar-A Resort at the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.

Are surgical instruments different depending on a surgeon’s laterality?
You can get special left-handed instruments, but I learned using right-handed instruments and I’m accustomed to using them, so that’s what I use. It can really be difficult to tell right- and left-handed instruments apart, so I suspect that if they went through sterilization they likely would just get mixed in with the rest.

It’s often noted that left-handers tend to be more creative than right-handers. Do you have any creative talents?
I play the piano. I actually played professionally in a piano bar in college. For my obligatory midlife crisis, I didn’t buy myself a Porsche, but rather I bought a Steinway Concert Grand Piano. And though you won’t find me at Barnes & Noble, I also write a lot, both fiction and nonfiction.

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