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Latest Posts

NBA All-Star, Grant Hill, Talks About His Experience With An MRSA Bacterial Infection

Methacillin resistant staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) is a deadly bacterium that is becoming more and more common inside and outside the hospital setting. No one is immune, not even babies like this one who died from an unknown exposure.

Seven-time NBA All-Star Grant Hill has also experienced the ravages of MRSA. I interviewed him about his near-death experience.

Dr. Val: Tell me about your recent experience with a severe staph infection.

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"Doctor Fish" Give Great Pedicures?

Thanks to my friend Jen for highlighting this unusual “health story.” Apparently a type of fish (called “doctor fish” – not sure how I feel about that) found in Turkish hot springs thrive on dead human skin. They’ve been used in the past to treat psoriasis, a condition that produces skin cell overgrowth. And now, an enterprising salon has imported these fish to nibble off dead skin found on pedicure seekers’ feet.

Images of the movie “Piranha” came to mind for me until I read the fine print – these fish have no teeth, but use a kind of suction action to feed. Also, the silvery creatures are the size of minnows.

Some clients say that the process tickles, and it feels as if their feet are being “kissed” by hundreds of fishies. The salon owners claim that the fish have doubled in size since they were first unleashed on American spa-goers.

I suppose this is an “organic” way to live in a symbiotic relationship with nature’s creatures – but as a physician, I can only imagine all the potential fungus and wart viruses thriving in the warm fishy waters. [Shudder]

I’m going to stick with my pumice stone.


You may also like: “Flip Flop Foot” and “Conversations at the SpaThis post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Do Your Shoes Hurt Your Feet?

Ask most men how many shoes their wife, girlfriend, or sister has and the
answer is: “too many.” I can’t speak for everyone with large shoe collections,
but I can tell you why I have too many shoes. They each hurt my feet in slightly
different ways – ways that are impossible to predict at the time of

Some of my shoes pinch my toes, others cause blisters under the straps, still
others cause blisters on the bottom of my feet or heels. Some of them are
comfortable for short distances but begin to hurt after 5 blocks. I’ve tried to
purchase shoes from the major “comfortable brands,” but without consistent
success in avoiding self-injury.

My husband has difficulty understanding my predicament, as his feet haven’t
seen a blister in over a decade.  He occasionally points to his baby soft feet
as evidence of a defect in my own. I protest that women’s shoes are not
comfortable, and he counters with arguments about my not needing any more

A recent conversation went something like this:

Dr. Val: [Sitting down on my couch after a long day of
work.] Argh! I’m so disappointed… remember those shoes that looked so
promising when we bought them in the shoe store, honey?

Hubby: [Chewing a bite of sandwich and contemplating my
question.] Which pair might that be?

Dr. Val: You know the nice, wide, dress sandals with a low
heel? [I point to the shoes as I remove them from my bare feet.]

Hubby: The ones that cost a hundred and fifty dollars?!

Dr. Val: Yeah, those ones. Look at what they did to my feet!
[I point out two strips of raw skin on the top of my toes.]

Hubby: [Wincing] There’s something wrong with you.

Dr. Val: What do you mean? I try so hard to find comfortable
shoes and yet I’m always thwarted – no matter how soft they look in the store,
or how expensive they are, they always hurt in the end!

Hubby: Why don’t I hear other people complaining about their
shoes? Everyone seems to be fine with shoes except you.

Dr. Val: I bet other women have shoe problems too… The
only shoes that are comfortable are sneakers.

Hubby: Your sneakers are unattractive.

Dr. Val: I know! That’s why I keep buying more shoes, trying
to find ones that look good but are as comfortable as sneakers.

Hubby: Maybe you have a connective tissue disorder?

Dr. Val: [Eye roll]. I don’t have a connective tissue
disorder. I just need to find that perfect pair of shoes – ones that look good
with suits and shorts and I can walk for long distances in and don’t give me

Hubby: You don’t need any more shoes.


Am I crazy or do women’s shoes wreak havoc on our feet? Do any of you have
tips for finding that perfect pair of black dress shoes?

(For summer shoe drama, check out my blog post about “flip
flop foot
” and racing
in stilettos
.)This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Dr. Val: Poster Child for Skin Cancer Risk

May is skin cancer awareness month, and Revolution Health has created an awareness campaign to help people become more educated about their risks. In a unanimous vote, I was selected as the blogger/spokesperson for skin cancer awareness – probably because I’m “the fairest in the land.” Well, the truth is I’m so white I’m actually closer to light blue – couple that with a high freckle count and green eyes and you’ve got one very high risk lady.

So I’ve decided to see a dermatologist once a year for a full skin check. I must admit that the first year I went I was convinced that I’d be biopsied into oblivion. The only way to be sure that a mole is not cancerous is to take a sample and check it under the microscope. So any doctor with a conservative eye would need to do a lot of “rule out melanoma” testing, right? Wrong. I was happily wrong. Dermatologists are trained to recognize individual freckle and mole patterns, and don’t do a biopsy unless they see an “ugly duckling” mole – one that stands out from all the others. I was so excited to escape the office with my skin in tact that I vowed to be obedient and return for a yearly check up.

If you are fair skinned and/or have had a significant amount of sun exposure in your life, or if people in your family have had skin cancer, you should definitely check in with a dermatologist to make sure you don’t have any suspicious moles. The doctor will tell you how frequently you should have follow up exams.

Here are some things you can do right now:

Find out if you’re at risk for skin cancer and learn what you can do to prevent it.

See what skin cancer looks like.

Check out my recent interview with Dr. Stephen Stone, past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, about skin cancer and about tanning salons.

Coming soon: the true story of my blogger friend who had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the side of her nose. She required plastic surgery to fill the gap, but it looks great now!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Indoor Tanning: Is It Similar To Smoking?

Tanning salons are a $2 billion dollar industry in the U.S., and their bottom line has been damaged by the medical community’s warnings about the link between UV (ultraviolet) exposure and skin cancer. Recent studies have found that some Americans may have too little Vitamin D in their diets, and since the body can synthesize this vitamin when exposed to sunlight, the tanning industry is campaigning for the potential health benefits of UV exposure.  Vitamin D helps to keep bones strong, and may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and several autoimmune diseases.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure – I did use tanning salons in my late teens and early 20’s. I knew it could be harmful, but (like a moth to a flame?) couldn’t resist the sweet lure of changing my “glow in the dark” skin to a light shade of cream (no melanin is no melanin, friends). So,  I was more than curious to get an insider perspective on the tanning industry vs. medical professionals battle. I turned to a dermatologist whom I respect immensely: Revolution Health expert, Dr. Stephen Stone. I asked him the following questions:

1. Does exposure to ultraviolet light have health benefits?

Other than for treatment of disease (psoriasis for one, atopic eczema, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, for example), the only known benefit is the production of Vitamin D in the skin – and adequate vitamin D can be obtained from food and supplements without the danger of UV exposure – and even in the worst climates, the sun is an adequate source of Vitamin D without resorting to tanning beds.

2. What amount of sun exposure is currently recommended?

There is no “recommended daily allowance” for sun exposure, and 15 – 20 min a day of unprotected sun on the arms (not total body) will allow peak production of  vitamin D.

3. Are there alternatives for good health?

UV is not needed at all for “good health.”

4. What evidence is there that exposure to tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancers?

The US dept of HHS and FDA officially classify UV as a “known carcinogen” and there are numerous articles supporting this: Gandini et al., Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma, European Journal of Cancer,  Westerdahl et al.,  Risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma in relation to use of sunbeds, British Journal of Cancer (2000), Karagas et al., Use of tanning devices and risk of basal and squamous cell cancers, Journal of the NCI (2002).

5. How would you describe that risk?


6. What do you think of the recent ad campaign sponsored by the tanning industry?

Same as I think of cigarette ads!

7. What is your take-home message to patients about tanning salons?

If the cancer doesn’t get you, think of the wrinkles!  We focus on cancer, because that’s life and death, but no one can deny that the UV causes premature aging and wrinkles.

So there you have it, folks. Indoor and outdoor tanning are both harmful to your skin. Whether or not you get cancer, wrinkles are a sure result of excessive exposure to UV radiation (with a little help from our friend, gravity). So I’m going to keep up with my sunscreen (see Dr. Benabio’s blog post), get a skin check annually, and accept myself as the tanless wonder that I am. Or maybe I should create a pale people support group? Any joiners?This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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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