What Big Magic Can Teach Those Who Serve

“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness.”*

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On the flight home yesterday I finished Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (She’s probably known to you for her NY Times Best Seller Eat, Pray, Love). For me, one of the overarching messages of her book was this – When you see what you do as your vocation (from Latin vocātiō, meaning “a call or summons”), and not just your job, it will transform how you view your work – a concept which I believe may be necessary (but not sufficient) to treat or prevent burnout.

As I read her thoughts on how to live a creative life, I realized that there were other ideas  that applied to physicians, physicians in training and others who serve:

 

Just show up. Every day.

“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least”

Learning and practicing medicine (or any other field) means showing up – really showing up – every day. Everyone in the first year of medical school learns that it is different than college. Cramming for exams is not only ineffective, it’s just wrong. You are no longer studying for a grade on a test…. it’s now about the patients you will take care of in the future. The same holds true during residency and when you begin your practice. It’s not just when you are a trainee.  Part of the “work” of medicine remains “unglamorous, disciplined labor”… keeping up with the literature, going to teaching conferences when you could be doing something else, finishing your hospital charts, being on call.

But the work of medicine is also about showing up every day in another sense, too – truly showing up for the people who rely on you – no matter what. That, too, can be “unglamorous, disciplined labor” when you are tired or stressed.

“Work with all your heart, because—I promise—if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.”

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They are your patients… from the first day of medical school until you retire.

Most of all, there is this truth: No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself. Eventually, the teachers won’t be there anymore. The walls of the school will fall away, and you’ll be on your own. The hours that you will then put into practice, study, auditions, and creation will be entirely up to you. The sooner and more passionately you get married to this idea—that it is ultimately entirely up to you—the better off you’ll be.”

Caring for others gives us joy but also gives us the responsibility to know the best thing to do for them. Whether you are a first year student, 3rd year resident or a PGY35 attending, we are all still learning. “Life long learning” is not just a phrase, it’s the reality of what we do.

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It’s called the practice of medicine for a reason.

“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”

Learn the art of deliberate practice early. Deliberate practice, to use a musical analogy I learned in Cal Newton’s fantastic book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, doesn’t mean playing the piece from start to finish 20 times in an hour. It means spending 55 minutes on the small section that you struggle with, repeating it 100 times before you play the piece through once. It means instead of reading the comfortable material on the anatomy of the kidney, you deliberately tackle how the nephron works. It means that instead of doing the computer-simulated cholecystectomy 10 times you spend an hour tying intracorporeal knots in the trainer. Find the thing that is not easy and practice it over and over until it becomes easy.

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There is Peril in Perfectionism

“There are only so many hours in a day, after all. There are only so many days in a year, only so many years in a life. You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.”

One of the greatest attributes of those who care for others is their devotion to the people they serve. But perfectionism, taken to its extreme, is dangerous. Extending your time to study for Step 1 beyond what is reasonable to try to get a higher score, revisiting decisions about patient care to the point of anxiety, worrying that your GPA has to be perfect are all counterproductive. The motivation to do well is like a cardiac sarcomere – a little worry will make you more effective, but stretched too far, there won’t be any output at all.

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Curiosity can overcome fear.

“No, when I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

It’s something most students don’t realize, but no matter how long you practice medicine, there are days when you are afraid. It takes courage to do what we do. Remember, being courageous is not an absence of fear, it’s being able to do what’s right despite the fear. I agree complete with Elizabeth Gilbert that curiosity helps. When you have something that doesn’t go the way you expect or frightens you, instead of beating yourself up (“I should have studied more”….”I could have made a different decision”…etc…etc) become curious. If you are thinking about a complication, commit to finding everything you can about the procedure and how to prevent complications. If you didn’t do as well on your test as you thought you should, look up different techniques to study, take notes, and remember information, and go back to make sure you really understood what was being tested.

Even more powerful than curiosity is gratitude. Fear and gratitude cannot exist at the same moment. Try it – the next time you are about to snap because your EMR freezes be grateful that you can see the computer, be grateful you have work, be grateful you have been trained to help other human beings …and see what happens.

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

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Your worth is not the same as your “success”.

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”

Wow…. This one is so important.

It’s not what you make on Step 1. It’s not how many cases you do, how many patients you see or how much money you make. This concept is taught by every religion and philosopher I know – for a reason. Be devoted to doing the best you can and to forgiving yourself (and learning from it) when you fall short.

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One last thing….for medical students trying to choose a specialty – forget about finding your passion.

This is a little longer quote than the others, and mirrors a similar message in So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love .

Find something, even a little tiny thing, that makes you curious (or fills you with wonder) and follow it. Dedicate yourself to following that curiosity and it will likely lead you to your career.

“May I also urge you to forget about passion? Perhaps you are surprised to hear this from me, but I am somewhat against passion. Or at least, I am against the preaching of passion. I don’t believe in telling people, “All you need to do is to follow your passion, and everything will be fine.” I think this can be an unhelpful and even cruel suggestion at times. First of all, it can be an unnecessary piece of advice, because if someone has a clear passion, odds are they’re already following it and they don’t need anyone to tell them to pursue it…..I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone…..In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” Anything? Even a tiny bit? No matter how mundane or small?….But in that moment, if you can pause and identify even one tiny speck of interest in something, then curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer. Do it. It’s a clue. It might seem like nothing, but it’s a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next. Then follow the next clue, and the next, and the next. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a voice in the desert; it’s just a harmless little scavenger hunt. Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places. It may even eventually lead you to your passion—albeit through a strange, untraceable passageway of back alleys, underground caves, and secret doors.

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*Italics are quotes from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Since I read this on my Kindle, I don’t have page numbers!

 

 

It’s the First Day of Medical School – What Should I Do?

I’ve written before about what to do before medical school starts, how to study in medical school and strategies for succeeding in the basic sciences. But how do you put this information about organizing your studying and your day into a system that works?   Everyone will have variations on how they do this, but there are some fundamental principles that apply to all.

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Don’t get behind

From day one, the material matters and, from day one, it is voluminous. If you get behind, it’s really hard to catch up.

Study, don’t just read and reread.

You have to actively engage this material and review it (multiple times) to really learn it. You are no longer studying for a test, you are studying to take care of other people. The SQ3R method is used by many students, but there are other systems as well. What is important is to develop a system that works for you.  One tool used by many students is Anki, software that allows you to create electronic flashcards to review key points.

Tips on active studying from UCSD

Tips on active studying from the University of Utah

 Use going to class as time to “study”

One of the important components to active learning is to review the lecture material before it is presented.  This is the opposite of what most of you experienced in college, but it’s key.   Survey the handouts or slides and make a list of the important points to be covered. Stay actively engaged.

p.s. You can’t learn medicine if you are on Facebook in class.

Create a summary page for each lecture

Include the big concepts, and key points. Include specifics that are stressed by the professor, but avoid listing all the details. You may choose to hand write this, but most of you will come up with an electronic format and will organize the class notes, and your summaries using One Note, Growly or an equivalent software. Although your personal notes are fine on the cloud, don’t put copyrighted material or your professor’s slides where other people can see them (it’s illegal).

Begin with the end in mind

In the long term, what you are learning (yes, all of it) will be applied to taking care of patients. In the slightly less long term, you will be tested on this information on the USMLE Step 1, a high stake exam and the first part of your medical license.   Although some dedicated time to study for Step 1 is important, having a system to really learn the material in your basic science courses is by far the best way to do well on this exam.

Don’t sacrifice sleep.

If you don’t sleep you don’t learn as well. Organize your schedule so you get at least 7, but preferably 8 hours of sleep every night.

Eat well, play hard and stay connected.

Clay Goodman,MD the Associate Dean of UME at Baylor, tells our first year class that the first year of medical school is a 60 hr/week job. They need to get up in the morning and “go to work”, using the afternoon and evening to study. He then points out that if they work 60 hours and sleep 56 hours (8 hours a night) they still have 52 hours to work out, spend time with family and friends and do whatever else they want.

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So, what should you do the first day of medical school?

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Here’s what your schedule might look like…

The night before – pack your breakfast for the morning break and lunch for the next day. Review any posted slides – survey them to understand the “big picture” and use them to start your summary of the lecture. Write down what you don’t understand from the slides (yes, at this stage it may be every line… but that will get better!).

7am – wake up (If you prefer morning workouts, you can get up earlier and workout before class)

7:30 Grab a piece of fruit or a smoothie if you don’t like to eat an early breakfast. (If you are ok with it, eat the full breakfast now, but whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast)

8-12 Attend class – Stay engaged. Take notes, make sure the questions you asked yourself in the review are answered, raise your hand and ask questions if they weren’t. Eat your breakfast or a snack at the 10 am break.

12-1 – Lunch with your classmates. Play foosball, talk, or just eat, but take a real break.

1-5 Study. One hour of studying for each hour of class is about right for most people.   This may need to go until 6 or 7 if you have afternoon labs.

7 – Workout and then make and eat dinner. Working out is an important part of self-care. Exercise is essential to decrease stress and also will help you avoid the “freshmen 10”. Your dinner should be healthy, not processed, and definitively not Ramen noodles. Make sure you have fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

9-10 Look over tomorrow’s lectures and start your summary pages for those lectures. Once you are a week or two into this, you’ll be adding in reviews of material from previous weeks on a schedule.

10-11 Read a novel, watch TV, decompress.

11 Go to sleep!

You are starting on one of the most amazing journeys any human being can have… enjoy it! Don’t forget to keep a journal and take photos (but not of patients). The first time you actually interview a patient, put on your white coat, hear a heart murmur or take a test in medical school are just that … the first time. Write about the experience.

Let me know in the comments what other advice you have for the students starting medical school this summer!

 

 

This Year’s @drmlb’s Top 10 Gifts for Medical Students, Residents and Busy Docs.

This time of year, family and friends of docs and/or docs in training are looking for the last minute holiday gifts (if you are trying to have them shipped) or planning the trip to the store(s) for gifts.

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The one thing any busy person doesn’t have enough of is time.  If you think about it in that context, you can find presents to support interests, fitness, studying (or just having fun) in a thoughtful way.

1. Someone to help clean their home.  It is the most amazing present to come one once a week (or even once a month) to a house that has been cleaned by someone else.  If there are family members who are willing (and it’s appropriate) you can put together a gift of cleaning supplies with a certificate for monthly housecleaning.  If not, word of mouth to find the best person is usually the best way, and will often help you find someone who also does laundry and ironing.  (a true gift!).   There are professional services in every city as well that can be found with an easy internet search.
2. Something to help integrate fitness into their every day activities.  If they don’t have a good bike to commute to school or the hospital (and this is something they would like) this is a great present.  Don’t forget the helmet, reflective vest and very bright lights as part of the package!
3. A fast computer.  If they have the same computer they had in college and you are able to do this for them, the time they will save in uploads will be very appreciated!
4. A smart phone or mini iPad (especially the new iPad air).  Like the computer, if the phone they have is more than 3-4 years old, the upgrade will be much appreciated.  The mini iPad (instead of the regular size) fits in a white coat pocket, which is why it’s ideal for anyone who wears a white coat.  If they have an iPad, think about some of the more expensive medical apps. (or a certificate for the App store
5. Kitchen appliances to save time (and promote healthy eating).  My favorites on this list would include a rice maker (which can also be used to steam meat and vegetables), a pressure cooker a slow cooker or the Krups multi-cooker.  A blender is always a good gift (to make smoothies and soups).  If you are feeling particularly generous, a VitaMix instead of a blender is much more versatile (and makes much better smoothies!).
6. Prepared meals. If you have family who love to cook, you can make a “certificate” for homemade food in freezable portions.  If you can afford it, there are personal chefs who do the same thing.  You can also give them a gift certificate for a grocery store like Whole Foods that has healthy prepared food or companies that deliver healthy meals (In Houston, it’s companies like MyFitFoods – but this varies from city to city).
7. Fitness equipment for home.  For medical students who are spending a lot of time studying think about a FitDesk, FitBike or a treadmill desk.  The standard stationary bikes, treadmills, etc are another option, but they are expensive and you have to really know that they are preferred over going to the gym (see #8).  A less expensive but very effective gift would be a “fitness care package” with resistance bands, FitDeck cards, a gift certificate for running shoes, and other small less expensive gifts.

8. A membership in a local gym. You can also consider a certificate for group classes in spinning, yoga, or whatever they enjoy.
9. Time with family and friends.  Think about a “certificate” for time together – maybe with restaurant gift cards or movie gift cards attached.  A “certificate” for a monthly home cooked meal?  If you aren’t in the same town, think about how to make it easy for them to spend time with their friends.  If you know their favorite restaurant or hangout, see if you can get a gift certificate.  If not, go for tickets to the local theater, one of the movie chains (find out which one is closest to where they live), or their favorite restaurant chain. If they have children, babysitting is a wonderful gift.
10. Whatever you can think of that makes gives them more time and/or will support them during times of stressful and busy work!

 

 HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!!PEACE_ON_EARTH

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Last year’s suggestions on wellnessrounds.org

Organizing Notes in Medical School and Residency

Among my other educational roles, I have the real pleasure of teaching embryology for the Baylor College of Medicine MS1 class.  Recently, while visiting with students before a lecture, I happened to see a set of notes on several of the students’ laptops. They had the slides from my lecture with additional notes, all organized to study efficiently.  I asked them if they would mind sending me information so I could post it here since I thought this might be useful to other medical students.

The following is a guest blog from Samuel Buck and Sara Fish, both first year medical students at Baylor College of Medicine with assistance from Sam Rogers, an MS3.

There are several apps that make studying easier in medical school.  In retrospect it would have been great to know about this the first day of class, so I’m happy to share them now.  I use OneNote and EverNote but there are other apps I know other students use like Growly Notes. Here’s the key notetaking apps (and a few others):

One Note
OneNote – This is the program that I use for notes during class. Using OneNote, you can import entire power point presentations (even the notes at the bottom of each slide) into a single document and add your own notes and drawings as well. OneNote allows you to organize all the lecture materials and slides in one place.  Word documents, powerpoints, PDFs, images, and Excel sheets can be placed in tabs in your “notebook”.  From here, you can easily navigate, add your own notes and text, highlight, or draw on the slides.  I usually use the draw functions to add arrows to radiographic images or to circle important points on slides.  I usually organize my notes by subject but other students organize by date, with tabs for each block, each week within the block, and day of the week, and individual note pages for each lecture that day. Other students organize notes into separate digital “notebooks” by block or by course (i.e one for embryology, one for anatomy, etc)  The most convenient thing about OneNote is that all of your notes are synced to a Microsoft SkyDrive (their version of the iCloud) so that you can access your notes on the iPad and phone. If I’m studying and ever need to consult my notes from class, I can just take out my iPad or if I’m on the go, my phone and reference the lectures or notes in a really organized fashion.  Having OneNote on my iPad let’s me review notes when I am on the bus or in other situations where it’s hard to get your computer out.  This is one feature that Mac users with Growly Notes (basically the OneNote equivalent) do not have since there is no Growly Notes app for the iPad. One of the most useful tools in OneNote is the find function.  You can type in a keyword and OneNote will search your entire notebook and show you every instance when that word is used.  This is very helpful because a huge number of documents can be scanned at once.  Since many concepts in our classes overlap, it helps to make connections between subjects.  For instance, if something is mentioned in embryology and you feel like you have heard that word before, but you don’t know where, you can search it and find the lectures in which it was previously mentioned.

Here are links to additional “tutorials” on using OneNote in medical school from the University of Kansas and UT Health Science Center in San Antonio that will give you more details on using OneNote to organize your studying in medical school.

som.uthscsa.edu/StudentAffairs/documents/OneNote_Presentation.pdf

www.kumc.edu/Documents/…/kumc-onenote-instructions.pdf

One of the most useful tools in OneNote is the find function.  You can type in a keyword and OneNote will search your entire notebook and show you every instance when that word is used.  This is very helpful because a huge number of documents can be scanned at once.  Since many concepts in our classes overlap, it helps to make connections between subjects.  For instance, if something is mentioned in embryology and you feel like you have heard that word before, but you don’t know where, you can search it and find the lectures in which it was previously mentioned.

 

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EverNote – Although there are some students who use Evernote to organize their notes in medical school, I found that format is not really conducive to good organization of notes. I do really like the mobile layout of the app and I use EverNote extensively for “every day” note taking. Grocery lists, work out programs, random ideas, to do lists, jotting down an email or name I want to remember. One thing I really like about EverNote is that when you make a note, it generates a time and location stamp for the notes.

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Growly Notes – This is probably the most popular note taking program for our class because it is made for Apple computers. I personally don’t have any experience with it as a PC user, but it has a great organization format as far as I can tell.

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DropBox – Online file storage and sharing service that is very useful for sharing study materials between students. Our anatomy buddies group uses this extensively to share quizzes and study guides. It is a really great service, and DropBox will load thing directly to and from your personal DropBox, which is very convenient . One thing to remember is that it’s not HIPPA compliant, so if there is any patient information, it shouldn’t be put in DropBox

Google Drive – Not to be overlooked is the tried and true Google Documents. Whether it be study guides or notes, it’s hard to beat the convenience of Google Drive if your goal is mass editing and sharing. Sharing the link to your document is easy, and it can be set up so that anyone who views the document can also edit it. Just like DropBox, this isn’t HIPPA compliant, so don’t share patient information.

TurboScan – This is an app that takes pictures of documents and turns them into PDF files that you can email to people (or yourself) or upload to DropBox. I do this for all class handouts to have an immediate digital copy of any paper items we get in class or study groups. I can email files to myself and post them into my OneNote documents. I also use this app for personal finances. I take a picture of my receipts from grocery shopping and going out as well as my bills so that I can better budget myself and keep track of purchases.

 

Twitter for Physicians

I was asked to speak today on using Twitter in medical education at the 44th annual meeting of the American Pediatric Surgical Association. I used Status Present, an incredibly cool software designed by Fred Trotter.  As I talked from these “slides”, they were tweeted at the same time.  It’s interesting to me that using this technology felt like a return to the era before Power Point, when talks were given by following “talking points” rather than slides.  It’s not going to be applicable to all talks, but this was really fun!

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Twitter in #meded for #pedsurg – a presentation which will be live tweeted and will then be posted on my blog wellnessrounds.org #eapsa2013

I blog and microblog (Twitter) because I am a teacher. #meded #eapsa2013

Once you learn the details (easy) Twitter becomes a new platform to teach (and learn) #surgery #eapsa2013

Why don’t more #physicians use Twitter? #eapsa2013

4 reasons #physicians don’t use Twitter 1/4: “I don’t get it” http://bit.ly/uya5XW #eapsa2013

Twitter is NOT email.  Twitter is NOT Facebook. #eapsa2013

The best word to describe Twitter is “ephemeral”  #eapsa2013

Twitter is the surgeon’s lounge.  Walk in.  See who is there. Eavesdrop or join the conversation. Leave when you want. #eapsa2013

4 reasons #physicians don’t use Twitter 2/4: “I don’t know how” #eapsa2013

Two steps to start on Twitter.  1/2: Pick your @name (handle). Short is better.  Professional is essential. #eapsa2013 http://bit.ly/ypRGi

Two steps to start on Twitter. 2/2: Dive in. Follow a few people, then look at who they follow. #eapsa2013 http://bit.ly/11vq0AT

#hashtags can be a specific event or topic (#eapsa2013, #pedsurg) or for fun #ihaveglutealischemia http://bit.ly/16cKCQ

Retweet = repeating the conversation you heard in the surgeon’s lounge. #eapsa2013

Filter Twitter conversations by making or following “lists” #eapsa2013

Twitter 101:  @name, follow @whoeveryouwant,, retweet what you like, follow (and unfollow) as you like, make lists #eapsa2013 #havefun

4 reasons #physicians don’t use Twitter 3/4:  “I don’t have time” #eapsa2013

Twitter is not email. You don’t have to read it all (you can’t).  #eapsa2013 #lesstimethanyouthink

Minimizing wasted time on Twitter: 1) Make lists 2) Follow specific #hashtags #eapsa2013

4 reasons #physicians don’t use Twitter 4/4: “I don’t think it will help me” #eapsa2013

5 ways Twitter helps #physicians. 1/5 Breaking news. @cnnbrk @msnbc_breaking @BBCBreaking #eapsa2013

5 ways Twitter helps #physicians. 2/5 Medical (and other) emergencies. @CDCemergency @Houston_Weather @BCMHouston @TexasChildrens #eapsa2013

5 ways Twitter helps #physicians. 3/5 Following meetings and thought leaders @APSASurgeons @AmerAcadPeds @BAPS1953 #pedsurg #eapsa2013

5 ways Twitter helps #physicians. 4/5. Efficient way to follow journals & journal clubs. @NEJM @JAMASurgery http://bit.ly/10W3Q17 #eapsa2013

5 ways Twitter helps #physicians. 5/5 Discovering important information in your field or other fields. #eapsa2013 http://bit.ly/11z1Fvh

Ex: @JAMA Surgery Comparison of #CT scan and #Sestamibi for #parathyroid localization bit.ly/ZrZeMu #PTH #endocrinesurgery #eapsa2013

Twitter is particularly powerful for #physicians in #meded #eapsa2013

Twitter links #physicians to #meded topics, resources and people #eapsa2013

Ex (tools for #meded)  @amcunningham Electronic Clinical Logs/Portfolios for students lnkd.in/_vJPBM #eapsa2013

Ex (resources) @bnwomeh Get free copy of ‘Paediatric Surgery: A Comprehensive Text For Africa’ at #eAPSA2013 reg desk img.ly/uuDF

Ex: (GME info) @TheNRMP Match Results Statistics for Pediatric Surgery & Pediatric Hem/Onc ow.ly/kBVAg ow.ly/kBVCS #eapsa2013

Ex (meetings) @BrianSMcGowan Please join our #eapsa2013 conversation 2-4 PMET via Twitter – as we help pediatric surgeons embrace #SoMe! #hcsm #meded #eapsa2013

Twitter is an important new tool for #meded #eapsa2013

You can’t stay with a rotary phone in a smart phone world… especially if you teach. #eapsa2013 #Meded #Meded2

“When medical students see an attending with a newspaper they think it is quaint” @LouiseAronson #MMed2013 #don’tbeadinosaur  #eapsa2013

Duty Hours, Interns and Training Doctors

For most people, talking about a 16-hour workday is outrageous.  For doctors in training, it may not be enough.

Training doctors is not easy.  It’s not just a matter of learning what is in the books or latest articles. Under the supervision of attending physicians, young doctors learn the art of doctoring by staying with and caring for their patients.  Because of the work they do while they are learning, resident salaries are supported through Medicare… mostly.  That’s another issue, but not unrelated to the issue of duty hours.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual for an intern to arrive at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, work all day, stay up all night on call, and then work the following day until evening rounds were finished.  That meant 36-hour shifts and many weeks with more than 100 hours in the hospital.  It was clear that this wasn’t sustainable, nor was it safe.

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After much debate, in 2003, the initial duty hour regulations were put into effect.  In a nutshell, residents couldn’t work over 80 hours a week (on average) and they weren’t allowed to stay longer than 24 hours.  If they worked all night, they had to go home the next day.  In 2011, the regulations were revised.  The major change was that interns (residents in their first year of training) could only work 16 hours in a row instead of 24.  On the surface, this made sense.  Fewer hours should mean more sleep.  More sleep should mean rested interns and fewer mistakes.

I wasn’t surprised to read the article published by Time magazine entitled “Fewer Hours for Doctors-in-Training Leading To More Mistakes.”  This report, summarizing the on line JAMA Internal Medicine article from this week, noted that “interns working under the new rules are reporting more mistakes, not enough sleep and symptoms of depression.”  In the same issue, authors from Johns Hopkins reported the results of a prospective, randomized crossover trial comparing the new regulations (16 hr work day) to a 24 hours work day with the next day off. They showed no significant difference in the number of hours the interns slept per week between the 16 hour and 24 hour shifts.  However, there was a marked decrease in educational opportunities, a significant increase in the number of handoffs, and less resident satisfaction with the 16 hour work day.  Most importantly, both the interns and the nurses caring for patients felt that the quality of patient care was decreased by the 16 hour duty hour regulation.

Why would there be more mistakes? Patient care is usually transferred in the morning (to the entire team) and in the evening (to the resident covering the patients at night).  That’s roughly every 12 hours.  When a portion of the team is rotating on a 16-hour schedule, it results in more handoffs (usually to fewer team members). Increasing the number of times information is transferred between doctors means increasing the risk of communication errors.

If they are working fewer hours why are they not more rested?  The new regulations almost require a “night float” system to insure that the patients are taken care of.  Working nothing but nights for one week a month followed by 16 hour days is not conducive to being rested.

Why are interns depressed? Remember, decreasing intern work hours didn’t change how much work there was to do in a day – and most hospitals didn’t respond by hiring more people to help.  Interns worry that they are “dumping” on their colleagues because they are being required to leave earlier than the other residents.  Less obviously, they are learning to be professionals but are being treated like they can’t “take” the hours of the residents one year above them. The message is subtle but real.  There’s also a perception that the quality of patient care is decreased by the new system – which is reason enough for a young doctor to feel bad.

Education is clearly impacted.  These studies document what we have all observed on the wards.  Interns working 16 instead of 24 hours admit and follow fewer patients.  In the surgical specialties, they participate in fewer cases.  They also attend fewer teaching conferences.

The solution to this complex problem isn’t going to be easy.  It’s an ongoing struggle to balance service vs. education, fatigue vs. experience and, maybe most importantly, how we pay for the incredibly important mission of training doctors.

I’m working hard to be part of the solution – along with everyone else in medical education.  We owe it to the future physicians we will train and the patients they will take care of.

Getting Ready to Start Medical School

This morning we had a group of medical school applicants at Baylor for a “second look”. They asked some very good questions including the question that prompted me to write this post:

“What should I do to get ready to start medical school?

Set up your environment

The amount of material you will be asked to master in your first year of medical school is more than you’ve ever been asked to master before.  You have to approach it with a different strategy than you used in college.  One critical component of this strategy will be to keep up with the material – starting from the first day.

If you try to hook up your cable, organize your electricity and straighten out parking at your apartment during the first week, you will fall behind.  Take the time to come explore your new environment and get settled in at least a week before classes start.  A week doesn’t sound like much to miss, but it’s a significant amount of information in medical school! One of the important tasks to check off the list during the week you are settling in is to set up your study area.  Make sure you have a computer that will meet your needs and an area to study that is pleasant, ergonomic and comfortable.  Most students find a dual screen to be very helpful as you are moving through notes and slides to study.

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You’ll be spending 1-2 hours studying (at a minimum) for every hour of class.  Given the number of hours you’ll spend studying, you might want to think about an “active” desk that lets you stand, walk or pedal as you study.

Develop (or strengthen) an exercise habit

Use this summer to develop a daily exercise routine that you can take into your new (and crazy) schedule.  Your goal for the summer should be to develop a balanced exercise program (cardio, strength training and flexibility) that works for you.  If you’ve never done any strength training, hire a trainer and learn about it. If you develop a balanced exercise routine this summer, it will be much, much easier to continue this once you start medical school or your internship. Commit to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day this summer and it will be a lot easier to continue once the pressure of school really kicks in.

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Running is one of the best (and most convenient) cardio exercises for medical students and residents (because it’s cheap, efficient and effective)  Use this summer to become a runner. If you hate running, find another good cardio exercise habit to develop instead – but pick one!

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If you don’t own a bicycle, think about getting one.  There will be places to ride for fun when you have time off.  You can also use your bike to commute to school which is a great way to sneak in exercise and save money.

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If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

Good nutrition is an important part of doing well academically.  It’s hard to concentrate and learn if you are eating junk. There is one simple trick to eat well during medical school: Learn to cook.  This is a skill that will become progressively more important as you enter your clinical work in medical school and then move on to your residency training.

Learn some basic skills to cook simple things.  If you have good cooks in your family, have them teach you.  If you don’t have family members who can teach you, find cooking classes near you and sign up.  Many high end grocery stores and gourmet stores offer classes for beginners – look on line for classes near you.

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Come to medical school rested.

Do not study. Seriously.  We will give you what you need and nothing you can do this summer will make it any easier.  It’s far more important to arrive rested and ready to go than to try to learn material that may or may not be relevant. Take a real vacation (or two). Visit family and friends – take a road trip and connect with people you haven’t seen in a while  Hang out on a beach, go for some great hikes, read some great novels.  Sleep in late, eat well, and just rest!

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