On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

Did you ever wonder why Christmas is on December 25th? … or why we decorate pine trees if Jesus was born in the Middle East? To make the long story short (while begging forgiveness from my theology professors for the oversimplification), it has to do with the Roman Empire adopting Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. When the Romans moved to conquer what is now England and Germany, the people they were conquering were more than a little reluctant to give up their celebration of the solstice and their understanding of the wonder of trees…. so the two religions “merged”, allowing these symbols to become part of the Christian tradition.

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And what about the 12 days of Christmas? Christmas (the religious holiday, not the shopping season) starts on December 25th and ends twelve days later on January 6th (Epiphany)… hence 12 days.

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As I thought about the holiday season, and the 12 days of Christmas, I came up with a different idea to celebrate this season… What if we all started a new tradition of donating a small amount to worthy groups for twelve days?  

I’ve listed twelve of my favorite charities below, but feel free to come up with your own. Even if you donate a few dollars to each one, you are celebrating the season of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and the Solstice in a powerful way.

  1. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontiers). This amazing group takes medical care into parts of the world where no one else will go. Their entire charter is worth reading, but they live by “observing neutrality and impartiality in the name of universal medical ethics and the right to humanitarian assistance.”
  2. Your local food bank. Whatever preconceived notion you might have about hunger in America is almost surely wrong. So many families, Seniors and disabled folx rely on food banks. Make this year a time to learn more about hunger in America and donate to feed your neighbors.
  3. A local animal shelter. Kindness to animals is the mark of a compassionate heart.
  4. Neighborhood initiatives. Regardless of your own religious background, or lack thereof, mosques, churches, temples, and synagogues seek to help those in need. Find the places of worship in your neighborhood,  look online to see what good works they are doing, and donate to help them. Better yet, take your donation in person to meet your neighbor and thank them for their work.
  5. Donate to help fight discrimination and oppression. There are so many important groups working for justice, a particularly important mission during this time of conflict and division. Consider donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Human Rights Campaign, RAICES, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU or other groups focusing on justice for all.
  6. Action Against Hunger.  This group spends 94% of the money they raise in 47 countries to “take decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger.”
  7. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. You can also donate to local shelters for the homeless, or programs like Healthcare for the Homeless in your town or city.
  8. Prevent Child Abuse America. As someone who works with abused children, I would also encourage you to donate to the chaplain program at your local children’s hospital. The chaplains see the specific needs of these children – but more often than not don’t have resources to provide meal vouchers, toys or clothes to help a family during these moments of tragedy and pain.
  9. Consider donating to a group that is working to stop climate change, or other groups that advocate for and protect our natural resources such as the American Bird Conservancy or the Nature Conservancy.
  10. Make sure an isolated senior has a visitor and food by donating to Meals on Wheels.
  11. Time. If you don’t have money to donate, make a commitment to volunteer with a local group to help others. “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill
  12. I am personally involved with FAM Houston (consider this my COI declaration!), a group that inspires me through their mission of “working for justice by building empowered community among refugees, immigrants, and local Houstonians.” Through building friendships and creating community they show that any light, no matter how small, is a miracle of love. If you are in need of a worthy group for your twelfth day of Christmas donation, please consider them!

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Last minute holiday gifts for busy people in your life

There’s still time!

If you have a medical student, resident, physician or anyone who is super busy in your family, here are few last minute gift ideas for you….

A Letter

I’m starting with this one because even though it’s obvious, we forget the power of stories in our lives to heal and support each other. Consider writing a long letter with stories about how they inspire you, when they decided on their career, funny events, etc.  Stress joy, humor… and gratitude.

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Spotify and/or Pandora without commercials

Many of us study with music, and most of us work (at least sometimes) with music in the background. These two platforms are currently the most used in the hospital. Being able to listen to the music of your choice without commercials is a great gift!

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InstantPot

Of all the cooking appliances and gifts, this one is the best for people who want to eat well but don’t have a lot of time. Even if you have to wrap the “IOU” (i.e. a picture of the InstantPot), it will be a very appreciated gift!

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A clean home

No one likes to clean their home, but all of us need this!  Even if it’s a deep clean every 3 months for a year, this is a great gift for anyone. Although there are professional services you can find, consider contacting local places of worship or non-profit organizations who may know responsible individuals who need the work.

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A subscription to Headspace

This one might seem a little strange, but you’ll have to trust me. For anyone who is “too busy” this is an easy way to really stop – even for 10 minutes a day – and “refuel”. BTW, get yourself a subscription (or at least try the first 10 lessons which are free). You’re welcome 🙂

Link to Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk (the founder of Headspace)

Other ideas for gift certificates

  • A healthy grocery store
  • A smoothie or juice shop
  • Their favorite restaurant(s)
  • Car wash
  • Starbucks (or even better, a local coffee shop near them)
  • Prepared healthy meals from one of the many companies that do this now
  • Membership to the YMCA or a gym near them
  • A new bicycle? (we never get too old to love this!)
  • “Date night” certificates for movies, plays or music and a meal
  • A favorite museum

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Anything Can Be A Prayer

I Happened to Be Standing

Mary Oliver

I don't know where prayers go,
     or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
     half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
     crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
     growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
     along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
     of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can't really
     call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
     or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that's their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don't know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn't persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don't. That's your business.
But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be
     if it isn't a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Why I’m Thankful for #ThisIsOurLane

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so today I’m with my family, looking at the timeline for tomorrow and discussing when the pies need to go in, who is making the cornbread and calculating how long the turkey needs to cook.

As of today, there will be 12,996 families in the United States who lost a family member to gun violence in 2018…. almost 13,000 Thanksgiving tables with an empty seat from a preventable death – from this year alone.

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Late at night on November 7th, the NRA posted this on Twitter:

I, and many other physicians responded as soon as we saw it…

My second tweet was followed by a long thread of PubMed abstracts with research results showing how we might start decreasing deaths from gun violence. The NRA, interestingly, removed all of those Tweets from their timeline.

#ThisIsOurLane has become a movement. A callous Tweet from the NRA started it, but that’s not what is sustaining it now. As I discussed in this podcast, I think what the NRA did was make physicians realize that this “debate” is not about politics, it’s about lives… human lives… sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends. It’s about our patients and, unfortunately, our colleagues. As a result of what has happened since November 7th, physicians have realized we need two things to move this forward: stories and data. Human beings are not swayed by debates, they are moved by stories. Good decisions can’t be made on emotions alone – we need data and that means research, and funds to do that research.

What you can do to help:

  1. Support important groups working to address gun violence as the public health problem it is. Donate today to Affirm (American Foundation for Firearm Injury Reduction in Medicine), Giffords, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, The Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
  2. Commit to questioning what you hear – from both sides. Question whether the fear created by the NRA is to serve another, more political aim… one that you might not completely understand or agree with. Ask questions. Ask for data. Recognize and ignore political rhetoric (from both sides). Keep an open mind.
  3. Support the funding of research into gun violence. Contact your representatives to let them know this a priority for you. This is no different than what we did as a society when we looked at death from car crashes… and developed seat belts, stronger cars frames and air bags. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see the same decrease in gun deaths through research?

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  1. If you are in healthcare, tell the stories in a way that respects your patients and their rights… but tell them. If you are on social media, use that platform. Until people realize that these are our siblings, parents, colleagues, and not just statistics, we won’t make progress. We have to move hearts before we can move minds.

I am so thankful for my family, for the opportunity to gather at the Thanksgiving table together, and for the many friends and opportunities that have been given to me. My heart goes out to all families who have lost a loved one to gun violence, including the horrible loss of life by suicide. May you find some small solace in knowing that we are holding you in the light – and that we will continue to work hard to end the tragic epidemic of gun violence in our country.

Photo credit (and info on the new initiative to stop gun violence from Toms.com)

Study Tips for First Year Medical Students

Yesterday was my first embryology lecture of the year to the new MS1s at Baylor College of Medicine, as well as the PA, DNP and Genetic Counseling students. For years, I’ve been including a few slides at the end of each lecture to help with the transition to medical school. Yesterday’s lecture ended with tips on how to study. I promised the students I’d share these slides in a written formate. I realized sharing them here might be the most appropriate way to do that!

Medical school (or any high volume graduate school) involves a dramatic change from what students have previously experienced. As you know, if you read this blog, I believe there are a lot of “tools” that can help students “thrive, not just survive

The biggest change for many students is it really isn’t about the grades anymore. It’s about studying for the patients you will be caring for in the future. That means really learning the material, not just knowing it for a test.

Even though there is still a lot unknown about how the brain works to learn material, what is certain is that it is a physical process. You create new synapses when you experience or learn new things. As they are repeated, these synapses get stronger and stronger.

So, to organize the advice, I’ll share some basics, some specifics and then a little refinement.

Learning this volume of material at this level of complexity is about consistency. You can’t run a marathon by running 20 miles every weekend. This is no different. You need to study every day (except one). One of our great teachers at Baylor, Dr. Clay Goodman, tells our students that they have signed on for a 60 hour a week job. (which roughly means 1-2 hours of studying for every hour in the classroom). If you map out your week as a 60 hour job, it will work a lot better than ever trying to “catch up.”

The SQ3R system is the best system I know to learn what you need to know during the basic sciences. So, how do you translate the SQ3R system into practice?

The night before lectures, spend 30-40 minutes skimming the lectures. No “studying”. Be curious. What questions are going to be answered during the lecture? How is it organized?  (BTW “Mike” is a fictitious patient with muscular dystrophy that Dr. Goodman uses in an introductory lecture to show how everything you learn in medical school matters – from the DNA to the psychosocial context of the family)

This 30-40 minutes is basically the “S” and “Q” of the SQR3 system.

  • SURVEY to get the big picture
  • QUESTION = what questions are going to be answered during the lecture? What else do you want to know to really understand this? (write them down!). Do not try to look up anything now.

During the lecture stay ACTIVE. Don’t sit in the back row and look at FaceBook – even if the professor is reading the slides.* You’ll need to take notes for this to be really active. Put the questions you want answered on an outline you prepare the night before lecture and fill it in during the lecture. Use mind maps or other powerful visual aids to learn. Click here to get to my post on taking notes during basic sciences.

*(If you are a lecturer who does this, stop it! – otherwise you are guilty of “death by PowerPoint.” Find someone who is a good lecturer and ask them to coach you.)

After the lecture, you move on to the 3Rs. Now you get down to the real studying. Read through the printed notes (or slides). Did everything get answered? MAKE NOTES that synthesize what you learned.

Review. Review. Review. Here’s the deal. Medical school is a lot like learning a new language.  The first part of basic sciences (anatomy, physiology, embryology, etc) is learning the vocabulary. The second part of basic sciences (diseases, pharmacology, etc) is learning the grammar. When you get to the clinics, you are practicing the language until you are fluent. “Flash cards” such as Anki are great at learning “vocabulary”. They are terrible at synthesizing and learning connections and concepts.  That’s why you need a single page summary of every lecture. The summary is the “forest”, your notes (plus or minus flash cards) are the “trees”. If you really want to succeed, you need both. BTW, I made the class repeat (out loud) after me (twice) – “You cannot learn medicine from Anki alone.” (It’s on tape. I really did this.)

Here’s an example of a single page summary of the embryology lecture I gave the class yesterday. I spent time to make this really look nice – more time than you will want to spend. It doesn’t need to be typed, it doesn’t need to be particularly legible to anyone but you, but take the time to do these summaries!

Did I already mention that you need to review?

This is probably the single most important slide I show when explaining how to best study in medical school. It’s the basis of many apps in medical learning, including the NEJM Knowledge+ courses. There are two really important points in this graph.  First, it takes at least 5 repetitions to really learn something. Second, they have to be spread out in a logarithmic fashion over time.

Here’s how to do it. The first three repetitions should be same day, next day and 2-3 days later. The more times you review it, the better, but it should at least be 1 week later and 3 weeks later.  More is better.  Plan another review a month later and three months later, too. For the Type A folks in medical school (i.e. all of you), make a spread sheet!

 

Another thing about our brains and learning.  Pushing through for hours without rest is as stupid as thinking you can build up your biceps by doing an hour of uninterrupted reps. Speaking of reps… use “study reps”. Get an app if you think it will help. 50 minutes of studying.

Stop studying for 10 minutes (no matter how engrossed you are) when the alarm goes. Repeat.

People sitting next to you in your study areas are going to look like they have it more together than you do.  It might be true… but it probably isn’t.  If someone has a study technique that looks like it will work for you, by all means try it!  Just don’t change too often. I was a liberal arts major in college. If you come from a non-science background, the first 6 months are going to be a little tougher on you because you have more “vocabulary” to learn but don’t worry, after that you’ll be caught up,

Read this slide. Believe this slide. The most important point on this slide is the last line. You cannot make those physical synapses you need to really learn without 8 hours of sleep.

Keep notes about what works for you and what doesn’t. Everyone is a little different, but you will find a system that works best for you through conscious effort.

It’s like running. Some of this is just “time on feet”. Remember the 60 hours a week job concept and you’ll do fine.

I end with this slide to remind my students that there has to be balance for this to work. Most of what I tell my students about finding and keeping that balance is in this blog, so feel free to use the word cloud to the right or search for what you might need. Please contact me if you have a specific question I can answer or if you have an idea for a new blog post.

Welcome to the best career in the world! We are all happy you are here!

 

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect

Dr. Marc Rowe is one of the truly great pediatric surgeons of our era. His work in newborn physiology profoundly changed how babies were and are taken care of in intensive care units. His prolific research, along with the many people he trained, has unquestionably affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of newborns.  He has taken on creative work as a writer and wood carver in his retirement. Dr. Rowe is one of my personal heroes and, when I read this essay he recently posted, I asked his permission to post it here to be able to share it with you.

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I am troubled by what is happening to our Country. Principles and ideals – truth, honor, kindness, diversity compassion and love and protection for the people, the creatures and the environment we share has been replaced by selfishness, prejudice, lies and a willingness to compromise in order to gain material wealth and power. What is particularly frightening is the effect the current leadership may have on our greatest gift, our children- the message sent – that you can be dishonest, unfaithful to your loved ones, lie, be a racist, a bully and a braggart and still become the most powerful person in the world and be supported by many of our religious and political leaders. I am confused – does this mean that these political and religous leaders would choose our current president to be a role model for their children and grandchildren?

As I watched this sad period in the history of our country unfold I was overtaken with a sense of powerlessness. I then remembered two lessons I learned during my career as a pediatric surgeon. The first occurred during my first job as an assistant professor of surgery. I was incensed by an episode of academic politics and was tempted to speak out but realized if I did I would pay a price. I vented my frustration to my wise and famous boss, Dr. Mark Ravitch, a battle scarred warrior of the political and academic world. He said – “before Socrates drank the hemlock he began his defense by saying –never let it be said that I had a podium and failed to speak. – You have a big mouth use it”.

The second lesson came later when I became depressed realizing the huge number of children suffering from potentially correctable diseases and abnormalities and how little one person could do. I then began to think about the ripple effect – the ever-expanding effect that even one person can have by teaching and striving to be a role model. I realized that young people are astute observers and learn not by what their teachers say but by the way they act, how true they are to the principles they teach and most important by not selling out when being principled becomes painful and dangerous. Kids spot phonies a mile away.

Three people I have greatly admired, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Robert Kennedy all have spoken of the ripple effect. To quote Robert Kennedy who spoke of the ripple effect during the tumultuous civil rights strife – “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

This carving I call the Ripple. The pond and thrower is carved from a branch and cross-section of bass wood, the shoreline is made from Sanibel sand and the stone in the pond is a small piece of river rock.

Scientifically Superstitious

There is a longstanding superstition in medicine that you never wish someone a quiet call night, sort of the medical equivalent of never wishing an actor a good show. We are trained in science, so all physicians know this is silly…and yet…

There are many theories in psychology about why human beings are superstitious, but the one that I think best explains the superstitions of doctors is that superstitious rituals decrease stress and can improve performance during stressful work.

So, don’t make fun of me when I wear my green socks for Kasai procedures… or when I feign horror if someone wishes me a quiet call night!

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Does the Fetus Feel Pain?

I teach embryology to wonderful first year medical, nurse anesthetist and PA students.  Last week, one of my students asked me, humbly and thoughtfully, if (and when) a fetus feels pain. Because of recent publicity concerning late term abortions, I knew this was a question about more than fetal physiology.

Let’s talk embryology.

I am very, very confident that the blastocyst doesn’t feel pain. I am equally confident that babies at the time of birth do feel pain. So, there must be a moment during development when nerves to sense the pain, nerves to transmit the pain, and a brain to perceive the pain come together to make it possible to perceive noxious stimuli. I’m not a developmental neurologist, so I can’t claim to be an expert, but based on published research, those three things are present somewhere around 22-24 weeks gestation. For those that are concerned about abortions that happen after 22-24 weeks, It’s important to realize that only 1.3% of abortions occur after 21 weeks gestation and 80% of these for serious birth defects.

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 Let’s talk suffering.

As healers, we seek to relieve suffering. Let’s be clear – that’s not the same thing as the “pain” I mentioned above. Let me give you a couple of (real life) examples.

A developmentally delayed 15 year old is raped by her cousin who threatens her if she tells anyone. Over the next two months, the girl becomes progressively withdrawn, depressed and even suicidal. Her mother takes her to her pediatrician who is able to convince the girl to tell her what happened. She sends the appropriate labs, including a pregnancy test, which is positive. Her pediatrician recommends termination of the pregnancy, and refers her to a gynecologist and a pediatric psychiatrist. Because of her depression and suicidality, both of these physicians also recommend termination of the now 14 week pregnancy.

A young couple comes to their gynecologist for a routine screening ultrasound.  Something isn’t quite right, so they are sent to the maternal-fetal medicine clinic for a more detailed ultrasound. They are at 18 weeks gestation, which means 22 more weeks until term. They receive horrible news. The fetus they are carrying has a fatal disorder and will not survive after birth. After a few weeks, they return to their doctor in tears. The emotional burden of carrying the pregnancy to term is causing them immense suffering.

Let’s talk ethics.

We teach our medical students to take complex situations like deciding to terminate a pregnancy and use an “ethics workup” to help guide decision making. The ethics workup starts with defining everyone who might be affected by the decision. For example, in the first case I mentioned above, that would be the 15 year old patient, the fetus, the patient’s mother, and the doctors. Then, based on the possible outcomes (to terminate or not to terminate the pregnancy), we consider the outcomes with appeals to consequences, professional obligations, ethical rights and virtues. What this process does is allow us to understand the complexity of the situation and the choices being made, rather than just going with our “gut reaction”.

Let’s talk about listening.

When I was Dean of Student Affairs, the “Pro-Life” group on campus invited a speaker that the “Pro-Choice” group felt strongly should not be allowed to speak. I asked the leaders of both groups to meet with me. They were pre-clinical students who had not yet experienced dealing with patients and families facing complex and heartbreaking decisions. I recognized that their conflict was a great learning opportunity, a chance to learn to work through a situation where colleagues disagreed. I asked them to develop a plan together on how speakers should be invited, a plan that I insisted reflect the culture of tolerance at our medical school. They did not disappoint. Their plan was amazing and included attending each other’s meetings and reviewing speakers for each other before invitations were issued. They also wrote a beautiful statement to be read at the beginning of each meeting explaining that they were there to learn from each other and to listen. They went even further and added that disrespectful comments or intolerance would result in being asked to leave the meeting. What a great example for us all – to listen to learn, and to do so with kindness and tolerance.

As physicians we are absolutely allowed – even encouraged – to include our personal views when making a thoughtful, ethical decision about caring for a specific patient.  Although it’s not a common event, physicians are allowed to choose not to care for a specific patient as long as they refer them to a different doctor. What physicians are not allowed to do is to impose our views on our patients, or our colleagues.

How to Succeed in Clinical Rotations (and residency, too)

Today I have the incredible joy of talking to the medical students on our rotation.  No agenda, just a conversation that they requested for some “advice”. They just started their surgery rotation last week and it’s their first rotation.  First rotation, beginner’s mind, unbridled enthusiasm… it is so wonderful!. I decided I would come up with what I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my rotations…

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Be mindful, deliberate and excited about learning.

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give.  Clinical rotations are often a whirlwind of work and you can be swept away without realizing it. Residents can ignore you, people can be cranky, patients can be difficult… and in the midst of all this, you are expected to learn to be a doctor.  You have to stay in charge of that mission, no matter what is happening around you.

Take a little time to reflect on why you are doing this and what kind of person/doctor you want to become.  When times get tough (and they will) hold on to it.  If it helps you, come up with a slogan to repeat, keep on a piece of paper in your wallet or on your wrist

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Learn about the practice of mindfulness.  Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in decreasing stress and may help to prevent burnout.  It’s not hard to learn, but it’s hard to master … which is the point of a “practice”. (e.g. the practice of medicine)

Learn to keep a “beginner’s mind”.  When I was a student on core medicine I had a senior resident that showed me what beginner’s mind looks like.  It was 2am and I was tired.  We were seeing a gentleman at the VA hospital for his diabetes, hypertension and some electrolyte abnormalities.  I presented the patient to the resident and then we went to see him together.  He had a rash, which I thought was so insignificant that I didn’t even include it in my presentation.  But, instead of scolding me, this resident got excited.  Yes, you read that correctly, 2am and excited about a rash – because he didn’t know what it was. (This next part will date me, but it’s a great example to make us grateful for the access we have to information now).  He called security and had them open the library.  We spent a wonderful hour looking through books – like a treasure hunt when we were little kids – until we found the rash in one of the books.  We were laughing, excited and couldn’t wait to get back to start the appropriate therapy.

 

Understand what you are going to learn (the big picture)

On every rotation, you will be given a list of learning objectives.  By all means, know them, study the things listed and make sure you know them (they will be on the test).  BUT… please realize that diseases don’t stay conveniently siloed in a single specialty so this is not learning “surgery”, it’s learning about how surgeons approach a specific disease you will see elsewhere, too.   You also need to know that what is listed as learning objectives today may well be obsolete tomorrow  (if they aren’t already).

You have chosen a career that ethically demands life-long learning.  That means that one of the most important skills to learn is how to develop a system of learning that you can use in medical school, residency and later in practice.

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Develop a system for lifelong learning now

Learning is iterative.  You will learn broad concepts on each rotation along with a “fly over” of the entire terrain of the specialty  You will need the information you learn on your surgery rotation on your medicine rotation when you are consulted on a patient with an ischemic leg who needs surgical treatment, or on your pediatrics rotation when your patient with a pneumonia develops an empyema.  If you choose surgery at your career, you will read and learn the same topics throughout your residency (and after) but with increasing depth.

The practical points on how to develop a system to learn during your rotation are here: How to Ace the NBME Shelf Exams: How to Ace the NBME Shelf Exams, In-Training Exams and Your Boards, but the key points are summarized below:

  • Remember it’s school.
  • Make a list of all the topics in the textbook.
  • Breathe deeply. You are not going to read every page in the textbook in addition to your assigned reading.
  • Create a schedule to SKIM every chapter
  • TAKE NOTES. All the time.
  • Figure out how to store your notes so you can find them in the future
  • Go through your daily notes in the evening and then store them in your system
  • Review, review, review

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Take care of yourself.

Pay attention to ergonomics, diet, exercise and sleep.  Most importantly, take care of yourself emotionally and spiritually.  You can’t learn or serve others if your tank is empty.  Come up with what is important for you and make a list.  Seriously.  Make a list of what you find helps you stay on track and then check it off every day.  Look at it before you go to bed.  Celebrate the things you did and don’t be hard on yourself for the ones you didn’t get to.

Don’t forget to take a “Sabbath” every week.  True time off is critical for recovery from this stressful work.

If it gets too hard, seek help.  It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, and most (if not all) of the people around you have been there.

We have the most amazing job on earth.  When the administrative issues or political conflicts get to you (and they will), just remember – you get to take care of another human life with the goal of relieving their suffering.  What could be more important than that?

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I have never seen a patient who did not deserve healthcare

The other day, while I was looking at my Twitter feed, I came across this amazing thread by Dr. Jennifer Cowart. I was so moved by this heartfelt plea to our elected officials that I asked her permission to post it here.

Female doctor with the stethoscope holding heart

I have never seen a patient who did not deserve healthcare.

I have seen people, rich and poor, who do not take care of themselves. Who drink too much, eat bad food, smoke, use drugs, drive recklessly, etc. If you smoke and get lung cancer, or if you didn’t smoke and get lung cancer, you deserve healthcare.

I have seen people, rich and poor, who believed themselves entitled to whatever care they wanted, at whatever cost, whether it was evidence-based or not. It didn’t change the fact that they deserved appropriate healthcare.

In fact, it is interesting that “entitled” is an epithet more often thrown at an “undeserving” poor person than a rich person with the same behavior and attitude.

I treat “good” and “bad” people. People I wouldn’t let in my house. It doesn’t matter. I’ve treated registered sex offenders. I don’t ask what they did. I take care of their pneumonias, their heart failure, their cirrhosis. They deserve healthcare. My care.

I took my (healthy, neurotypical) baby to a specialist the other day. We passed many children with (visible) special needs. A girl with a trach in a push chair. A teenager escorted by her father with CP. Children with various genetic syndromes. They deserve healthcare.

That could have been us. If not for the luck of genetics, my children could be those children. Blessings, but also requiring significant care, time, money, and resources. Those children are worth as much as mine and deserve their healthcare.

To me, the fact that it will cost a lot of money to ensure everyone has healthcare coverage is secondary to the fact that everyone deserves it. If we decide everyone deserves it, we will finance it. Expensive things can be worthwhile. Healthcare is one of those things.

I have seen cancer patients lose their insurance and not know where their care will come from. Chemo regimens interrupted. Radiation not given. “Lost to follow up.” I have been in those rooms, held those hands, wiped those bitter tears.

When you’ve worked your whole life, had private insurance, got cancer before you are old enough for Medicare, get too sick to work, lose job, lose insurance, have to wait for disability/Medicaid to kick in… this is pain like you haven’t seen. Those people deserve healthcare.

I know there’s the flipside. People who never worked. Maybe they really were truly lazy, or maybe they were caretakers and never worked outside the home (doing invisible work). Some of these folks are rich, some poor. I treat them all.

Illness doesn’t respect your work history. “Bad behavior” may increase risk of bad outcomes, but we transplant a lot of livers into cirrhotics who drank. Cancer strikes a lot of folks who never smoked, who got HPV from their spouse, who did nothing “wrong.”

The only category I see that we consistently say as a country who doesn’t “deserve” their care are the poor. Sure, people judge alcoholics or people dependent on opioids, but we haven’t made huge moves to dump all of those folks off their healthcare programs.

Yet Congress tried to cut millions of people out of Medicaid. Give them the “freedom” to “choose” their care—which they can’t afford. They didn’t cut smokers off, or alcoholics, or diabetics who eat sugar, or heroin users. Just poor people, those “undeserving.”

We are still waiting for CHIP to be funded. Guess who’s children are covered under CHIP? Not the kids of smokers. Kids of working people who don’t make much, but earn too much for Medicaid. In other words, people who don’t have enough $ to “deserve.”

I reject the premise that money is what makes you worthy of my time and care. I understand that healthcare must be financed. My time is not free. I am not a volunteer. But if you have pneumonia, my worry is not how will you pay, but how to treat you.

So figure out how to pay for it, because everyone deserves to get treatment for their special needs child, their cancer, their pneumonia. To get that treatment, and not be bankrupted by it. Everyone deserves basic healthcare.

 

Jennifer B. Cowart, MD works as a hospitalist in Jacksonville, Florida.  She is a graduate of the The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and trained in Internal Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine followed by a fellowship in Clinical Pharmacology and Hypertension.  She then served as the Chief Resident in the Quality and Patient Safety (CRQS) program at the Michael E. Debakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center.