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May We All Die So Well

Everyone liked him. Though his later years (the only ones in which I knew him) took away his ability to do most things, and though he was in great pain every day, it was easy to see the mischief in his eyes. The subtle humor was still there, coming out of a man who was weak, in pain, dying.

She lived for him. She was always telling me of his pain, frustrated with the fact that he didn’t tell me enough. She was anxious about each complaint of his, wondering if this was the one that would take him away from her. Many of her problems were driven by this anxiety and fears, and she spent many hours in my office giving witness to them through her tears.

As his health failed, I wondered about her future. He was the center of her life, the source of her energy, joy, purpose. How could she manage life without him? How could she, who had so much lived off of the care of this wonderful man, find meaning and purpose in a life without his calming presence?

Then he died. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

When Medical Dedication Comes From Personal Pain

The old joke about psychological therapists is they are among the biggest consumers of therapy themselves. Lately, I have been noticing more and more how a significant portion of the people we meet wearing white lab coats have a very personal connection to the medical work they do. For them it is not a job, a meal ticket, or just putting their years of training into practice, it is a mission connected to something in their past, something in their own body, or the health of a loved one.

A recent example is Kaiten Kormanik. She is 23 and has had the genetic condition PKU since birth. She has to follow a strict low protein diet or otherwise risk severe negative effects on her brain. If you toured the labs of The Children’s Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh you might bump into her as she does research for her Ph.D. on, guess what?- genetic illnesses in children. And she often works alongside Dr. Gerald Vockley, the very expert physician who guides her care. As you can imagine, Kaitlen thinks about her own childhood and the faces of other children every day. You can hear her story on one of our recent programs.

Irl Hirsh, M.D., at the University of Washington, is one of America’s most famous diabetes doctors. He has diabetes himself and has all the challenges everyone with this disease has in managing it. You can hear his story on one of our earlier programs on diabetes. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

The Humanistic Side Of Medicine

An excellent opinion piece by Sally Satel, M.D., a psychiatrist, appeared in the Wall Street Journal this morning about white coat ceremonies as ways to reinforce the humanistic qualities of medicine. The best part, however, was this perspective:

But the question of whether empathy can be taught—and, in particular, whether a white-coat ceremony is a good means for promoting that virtue—is a matter of some debate.

Judah Goldberg, a young doctor at Chilton Memorial Hospital in New Jersey raises an intriguing paradox. He asks how the white coat can bring doctors closer to the subjective experience of patients when, as an icon of the profession, it is meant to isolate and distinguish them from the lay community.

“To the extent that empathy can be taught through a ritual,” Dr. Goldberg told me, “a hospital gown, the common garb of human frailty, would be more fitting than a distancing white coat.”

I must say, the thought of everyone seeing each others’ posterior sides as they paraded across the stage at such a ceremony did make me smile. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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