Medicine:  Science + Humanity = Professional Pride

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Lots of learning this month, friends.  I’m overwhelmed and overjoyed, and proud of my profession.

It’s too much to write about in one post, but I will try all the same, in order of occurrence.

18 October 2019

Once again I had the privilege of meeting with medical students, this time to discuss their experience of leadership in medicine.  As is my new custom, I started with an appreciative inquiry exercise: What is the best thing about medicine, WHY do you do this?  One of their responses:

“The medical encounter is a unique combination of compassion and intellect—the conversation is my favorite thing, and that I also get to help.”

19 October 2019

Looking through the basement bookshelf, I came across my medical school application from 1994.  The general application included a one page personal statement, in which I wrote:

“Science, and the human body in particular, have always fascinated me… In practice, while I pursue the challenge of each new patient’s illness, I want to share with them my enthusiasm for the science of medicine…  But being a doctor involves more than curing people’s illnesses…  It is the job of the physician to reassure and comfort the patient…  In my practice I will…do my best to communicate with (patients) in terms they will accept.  The best way to comfort people is to relate to them.  I believe this skill will make me understand not only patients’ medical needs, but their emotional and psychological needs as well…  I hope to keep learning from my patients in the future.”

Turns out I’ve been both a science nerd, and also thinking and writing about relationships and connection for a while now, go figure.

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25-26 October 2019

This year’s ACP Illinois Chapter Meeting was the best one in recent years, in my humble opinion.  I’m so proud that under the leadership of our Northern Region Governer, Dr. Suja Mathew, we were able to present a robust clinical education conference, as is the ACP tradition.  Along with sessions on diabetes, heart failure, office orthopaedics, and cancer survivorship, however, we also included sessions on critical social and public health issues, such as diversity/inclusion, the impact of social media, firearm injury and death, medical marijuana, trauma-informed care, and sexual harassment in the workplace.  Esteemed colleagues from across the country came to share their expertise.  Here are just a few examples of Science + Humanity, in action every day in our work:

Diabetes

Science:  We now understand that it’s the wide swings in blood sugar, and especially very low sugar, that lead to end organ damage.  We have new classes of drugs with novel mechanisms of action.  They decrease the burden of glucose control on pancreas cells, and also seem to prevent heart failure in some patients.  Humanity:  All diabetic patients need education—face to face time with a trained professional who can teach them about the disease and how to manage it. Even the most highly educated and most well-informed person cannot automatically know how to be a diabetes patient without the help of these medical team members.  More and more, diabetes care in particular is a team sport, and our collective skills get better every year.

Cancer

Science: We are curing cancer.  There are more survivors now than ever before, thanks to targeted genetic and immunotherapy and minimally invasive surgery, among other treatments.  Humanity:  Survivorship starts at the time of diagnosis, and cancer patients have both unique and diverse needs and concerns.  Complications from treatment such as neuropathy and heart failure can occur years out from treatment, and the psychosocial consequences for patients and their families can be lasting and transformative.  The better we understand this as their care teams, the healthier and happier our patients will be.

Childhood Trauma

Science: Since the 1970s, cumulative evidence shows that Adverse Childhood Experiences and trauma correlate with an increased risk of negative health behaviors, mental illness, chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, decreased academic performance, limited professional productivity, and early death.  And they appear to affect each of these outcomes independently.  In the Tree of ACEs, branches and leaves represent the interpersonal experiences.  We are only starting to understand the roles played by Adverse Collective Historical Events (slavery, genocide, mass incarceration, forced displacements)—the soil, and Adverse Community Environments (poverty, violence)—the roots.  HumanityThe key factor that correlates with escape from the early mortality path from ACEs is a stable and nurturing relationship with an adult caregiver.  As healthcare providers, we have a unique and important part to play in the healing of all ACEs—our patients’ and our own—and all evidence points to the quality of our patient-provider relationships as foundation—no surprise.

Gun Violence

Science: In 2012 33,000 people died from firearm injuries (it was up to 40,000 in 2018); 62% of these deaths were suicides.  That same year there were 62,000 nonfatal firearm injuries, 72% of which were assault, 5% self-inflicted, and 17% unintentional.  Higher rates of gun ownership correlate with higher rates of death from firearm injuries.  States with both background checks and waiting periods have lower rates of suicide by firearm compared to those with background checks only.  It is still unclear whether states with more lax concealed carry laws have different rates of firearm related deaths compared to stricter states.  Humanity: Though mass shootings dominate the media, the majority of deaths from firearms are self-inflicted.  The acute impulsivity of mental illness, combined with an accessible, loaded firearm, destroys lives—whole families and communities at a time.  Our job as physician advocates is to not alienate gun owners, and rather enroll and recruit their help to address the factors that take our friends and loved ones from us.  It’s not an Us vs. Them fight over rights.  It’s a shared challenge to create policy that honors our unique national history and culture, and also effectively addresses our public health crises.  Here is where our highest notions of collaboration, respect, and shared purpose must be exercised.

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27-30 October 2019

Today I arrived in San Diego for the International Conference on Communication in Healthcare, my first time at this meeting.  Many of the sessions will present research on effective ways to teach communication skills to trainees, factors that impact health literacy, and methods for measuring effective communication.  This conference is all about the science of communication in healthcare.  And it’s also about the humanity.  The first plenary speaker was Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, who interviews people on the streets of DC in her series, “Dr. Lisa on the Street.”  The videos show over an over how people feel ignored and dismissed by our healthcare system, and how unsafe it is for them to admit what they don’t know or ask questions.  This is one of the only meetings I have attended at which patients are invited to present and voice their perspective.  At the end of this session one patient attendee stood up and spoke words that will guide me throughout this week and my career:  “Doctors may have all the education in the world, and if you cannot talk to your patients in a way that makes them trust you, it really doesn’t matter.”

Sessions I plan to attend:

Moving Health Care from a Team of Experts to an Expert Team

How to Become an Effective Advocate for Humanism in Your Healthcare Organization

Collaboration and Communication Across Multidisciplinary Healthcare Teams

Civility Ninjas:  A Field Guide to Improving Colleague-Colleague Interactions

Understanding and Addressing Mistrust

Shared Decision-Making as Ethical Practice

Thanks for reading to the end, friends.  I know it was a lot.  As I age I learn to hold patience as well as eagerness, absorbing the input as well as creating my own, integrated outputs for good.  How lucky I am to have so many amazing people to keep me company on the journey!

Four days to NaBloPoMo, my fifth attempt, HOLY COW!  Better get to bed…

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