Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Christmas




I'm not sure when it happened, but sometime during the 2nd year of medical school, I began to map out my trek on 3 very large, picture calendars. You know the of national parks, huge vistas that you ad to your bucket list as you flip the pages. Awesome to look at as I moved onward.

As I progressed, I marked key dates, deadlines and points of interest in this process called medical school. I remember looking at December 2012 back then and marveling that it would be the last holiday break before graduation if everything went on time and schedule. And while there have been some blips, it came.

image It was a great holiday with many wonderful memories created with family, friends and places. But it did feel different. It was the first one I wasn't studying for something in earnest. And it's that pensive time before Match is announced. It was a time of reflection too...have I done everything I need to do? Is there anything I need to do? Are my last rotations all set? It's been a very busy 2011.

And so this part of the process will end very, very soon. It's the last of the clerkships and laid back learning. I wish I could figure out how to do 4-8 week rotations for the rest of my life, but alas it doesn't pay well :) It's a great time to hone skills, be truly present with patients and get better at communication and decision making. It's a great time to reflect on the experiences thus far and try to envision the future to come. It's an exciting time.

And while I may have been out of my mind to jump off into this abyss, it's been a great experience and I'm looking forward to the next stage. And that will be here before I know it. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and graduation is on the horizon.


And the congregation said "yea".

Now, if I could only get my preceptor assignment for Monday.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Numbers Game

The frightening thing is the information doesn't seem to be out there. It's gone largely noticed as I talk to established physicians. The reality? As medical school class sizes grew and new medical school opened on top of more foreign medical students applying...many will NOT match in 2012.

Expectation - There will be approximately 24,000 PGY1 positions available this year in ALL specialties. There will be nearly 50,000 applicants this year (U.S. and FMGs plus graduate MD's from other countries). There are going to be over 25,000 U.S. grads alone....more than the number of PGY1 slots. Any with funding questions swirling, there may be less positions even as the number of applicants increases.

The Problem: A tremendous need for primary care physicians in this country (pediatrics, geriatrics, community internal medicine, general surgery, family practice, women's health, etc)

The Myth: Expansion of medical schools will increase physicians, particularly in primary care. This is the biggest lie of the entire health care discussion, and medical school have largely bought into the idea by increasing class sizes and opening new programs. Physicians are "built" in residency, NOT medical school.

A Simple Solution: Unmatched graduate MDs and DOs want to continue training and practice medicine...being part of the solution.

How about providing a route for all unmatched physicians who have passed Step 1 and Step 2 enter into a "apprenticeship" agreement for training with any licensed physician? In exchange "training reimbursement" through Medicare, Medicaid, Insurance etc including payment for services as if the trainee was a physician.

Why is this so outlandish? A Physician Assistant can graduate PA school after 2 years, and enter into a work agreement to "practice medicine with supervision" right away. Why shouldn't a 4 year trained physician be allowed to do the same? It make so much sense to create this alternate pathway to create primary care and needed specialty physicians as a methodology to create the solutions health care really needs in this country.

The question, is there anyone in medical leadership willing to champion the effort. Are Boards of Medicine willing to be creative enough to fulfill the needs of it's citizenry as physicians retire, leave medicine, and refuse to accept Medicare and other payment programs?

We really need solutions, not more roadblocks. How about bringing the community apprenticeship training model back? It's worth looking at!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Emerging from the Rabbit Hole

Time flies when you are having fun or doing interviews for residency. I was doing the latter. Doesn't seem to matter how many times I sit across a table from another human being for an interview, it never gets any easier. imageI'm sure my facade is glowing calm, but my insides are churning of sweat and sheer panic.  I realize that it's not supposed to be that way, but the pressure of presenting yourself to one person or another in a short amount of time is brain busting. Combining a rather long history with honesty and trying to highlight the important qualities that fit the setting = nerves. At least the suit looked good.

But then, once in awhile there is a merging of the minds, a synchronous dance of perfect symbiosis and "Tsaheylu" is formed. I jump up and down inside when that happens. It's a moment in the interview time, place continuum when you know you are answering the questions easily, appropriately and becoming one with the interviewer. The portal into this rabbit hole could be something simple like a highlight from your past that fits their future view of the program. It could be a shared venture outside of medicine or a key word or phrase. It could be a testing struggle you both shared. And there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason and certainly no way to Google it in advance.


But I'm not asking for much, just a chance. A chance to show how passionate I am about medicine and patient care. A chance to prove beyond my average test scores that my clinical skills, honors rotations evaluations and experience means something beyond the sheer numbers. Match is what this last 4 years has been all about, and it's about to happen; As soon as these interviews are all over and the rank order lists are submitted. This is the nerve wracking season of medical education for MS-4's and graduate MD/DO's everywhere.


Since the 80's the number of applicants for the Match is growing at a faster pace than the number of spots available. This leaves the clear picture to many that residency is not possible. Everyone doesn't match. So more and more applicants are vying for a proportionally smaller number of post graduate training program spots. That's a recipe for a nervous interview season.

And so it goes. About 3 months after the holiday season, everyone will know their fate and where they'll be going come July 1. Could be family medicine in Florida, surgery in South Dakota or dermatology in Des Moines. The future of medicine is in the hands of a few powerful men and women interviewing a few very nervous applicants.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Stream is VERY Full!

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. when you are in the match, everyone around you looks like a match applicant.


Recent article in the news applauded medical schools for increasing the number of first year medical students; Up almost 2,000 slots this year. That means in 4 years there will be 2,000 more students in the match process for residency positions.

But once again, the truth of the news is lost in the tragedy of the ineffectiveness of the process in the U.S. There were NOT 2,000 more residency slots created to accommodate those graduates. Add to that number the increase in foreign medical graduates like me, and the number of immigrant physicians who want to practice in the U.S. (all required for the most part to do residencies) and you see the bottleneck.

The fact is that there is a rapidly expanding disconnect between graduate medical education (residency) and the medical school "feeder" system. There is much money in expanding medical school and ERAS residency application slots, but not much made available to programs to expand residency positions. This is only going to get worse in the coming years as the new medical students graduate. It's a real problem as the U.S. tries to solve the primary care crunch as the baby boomers age.

I just want to practice "hang the shingle" primary care adult medicine. Why is this so hard? It shouldn't be at this stage.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Well, I've made it this far


Just heard! I have officially passed Step 1, Step 2 CK and Step 2 CS. I now can graduate and get the coveted MD degree. Now that and $1.95 may get me a cup of coffee at McDonald's (maybe), but it is done...and that's a GREAT feeling!

Next step...3 sometime in the next couple of years. In the meantime, residency apps, interviews (hopefully) and placement. It's a long road, with many twists and turns, but I can see the light.

Could be a train, but I see the light.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Another Step, Stepped Upon


"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."   - Med Student speaking to the ceiling fan with vague reference to NBME


"Boy, that was worth it. Such value in learning and educational assessment. $2 per answer!"
-Med Student III to me


"Remember what you learned for Step 1 and Step 2? Now forget it. It's useless, meaningless and has no place in this house of healing!"
- Residency director to new PGY-1s at orientation


Now just have to wait for the results.
Just in case, application to What a Burger submitted.

"Hey boy, you want fries with that??"

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sucking Sound

That sucking sound you'll hear is a large medical testing organization insuring I have nothing left.


Today is the day


The next "step" happens today. Step 2, part 2. This day marks the end of a long process that, while not quite over, was the pinnacle I could see off in the distance.

When I return, it will be done.

Tomorrow, onward to Internal Medicine.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Terms Everywhere

It's all about vocabulary.

Anything protected from outsiders must have a code that only the insiders know. That vocabulary of terms is the "fair maiden", protected in the towers by the knights in white smocks with black rubber tubes of grail around their necks and in their ears. To know "the imagewords" is to be a member of the secret society of potions and spells that few are permitted to use or allowed entry.


And when the attacks at the gates by nurse practitioners, physician assistants, chiropractors, pharmacists and the many "non-knights" becomes too brutal, the knights convene and invent new words, new exams, new "steps", new rules, new regs, newances...and they smile broadly.


Mu ha ha!!

That'll keep them to the other side of the mote.

The fair maiden is protected again.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Cluster Headache

Pretty darn bad, apparently.

A cluster headache is one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year, separated by long pain-free periods that last at least 1 month.

They are "episodic" (most common) with 2 or 3 headaches a day for 1-2 months, brief HA free period and repeating pattern after that. The other type is "chronic" is about the same but without a period of sustained relief. Both are more common in men, and often feel like " an ice pick in the eye."

Of course it's always a good idea to see if the patient actually does have a pick in the eye before treating.

Ice pick headache

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sorta Just Snuck Up On Me

The patient struggled to the table. "This has been progressing for a few months and is getting worse. It just sort of snuck up on me, a little more each day, week.

I've had tingling over my body in different place. I'm numb here, here, here and here (pointing). I can't seem to keep my balance on uneven surfaces and have been falling a bunch. My legs and arms feel so weak and my vision is getting worse, almost daily. I've been seeing double and it's very blurry."

"How old? I'm 48 doc. I'm very active; at least I was. I drive a tuck for work and love to hike and bike with my wife and kids."


"Lets get a MRI and see you back. I have an idea what this is all about, but I want to be sure."


"I'll want to run a few more tests but I'm sorry, it is what I thought. You have M.S., Multiple Sclerosis. I'm afraid you may not be driving anymore and while we have some treatments that will help control the episodes you have been having, this may get worse over time."


And that's how it is. One day young, active, hiking and biking...the next, struggling to get up from a chair or climb stairs.  And the presentation, signs and symptoms are as varied as the stories with many different nerve maladies affects:

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. It usually happens in "episodes", period of time with symptoms and many patients can be kept in remission with various therapies, medications etc. Episodes can last for days, weeks, months....or forever.

For me, after my neurology rotation, it will always be the "just sorta snuck on me" disease.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Get rid of my headache doc, and I'll give you my daughter!

Migraine headaches suck! That would be an understatement to those really having them. Migraines create great dysfunction in life, work, relationships, mood, self esteem, eating habits, traveling habits and almost every other area of life.

So when a patient finds a cure, usually through a provider that's willing to walk the combinations of medications (both rescue and suppression), other therapies and time... patients are ecstatic. Now they don't normally give away daughters and other parts of their family, but they do make grand gestures.

"How are you headaches going Mr. Jones? We've had quite the challenge with these, haven't we?"

"Doc, they are GONE!! I love you!! That combination of [select from the buffet - Amerge, Axert, Frova, Imitrex, Maxalt, Sumavel, Treximet, Zomig, Botox, Migranal, Ergomar, Caffergot, Amitriptyline, Atenolol, Diltiazem, Doxepin, Verapamil...just to name a few] did the trick!"

"That's great Mr. Jones.I'm thrilled for you and that we could finally get you some relief. By the way, I love you watch. It's very nice. Ok, so I'll see you back in about 3 months to see how your doing."

"Sounds good doc. Here take the watch. It's just an old thing anyway. Enjoy it!" And with that, he handed the doc the watch, and walked out.


Thankful just doesn't cover the gesture.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Furiously Filling Fat Full Fast

I am so full of knowledge at this point, I'm afraid to learn anything new for fear that it will force something out that I might need later for exams, practice or human conversation. I don't think there is any room possible for any more. I'm almost completely full.


And just in time too. Nearly done with this phase of study and the next exam coming soon. It's anticipation and future relieve rolled into a tight package of anxiety. The ultimate performance anxiety.

I've met some interesting folks these past weeks of intensive study; all on the same mission. We all have our strategies for success and they couldn't be more different from each other. But the ultimate goal is the same. Fill up just enough to not push anything out the other side of our brains and promptly regurgitate what we know or think we know at the appropriate time, in the appropriate exam moment so we can onward to the next "Step".

I pray for no leakage of any vital information, including my name.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

His story, Her story

Everyone has a story. Everyone has tales of woe and triumph about this abortive process called medical training. The stories are all about the trials and tribulations, the attendings, the rotations, the schools, the classmates, the exams, the sleep (or lack thereof), the process, the residencies, the hours, the longer hours, the memory (lapses). And we all seem to have the same response on any given day at a time, moving closer to the goal, whatever that is for you. It's a daily slog.

And it's so great to find those of use who relish, thrive and look forward to the learning day. There are great mental triumphs and "oh wow" experiences of eureka, mind blowing understandings of new, or newly incorporated knowledge. And it's those that force people to answer the question, "how are you?" with "I'm EXCELLENT!" :) and really mean it.

The process can be a great challenge.

But, today, I'm EXCELLENT.

Thanks Ceriman, the waiter, for reminding me of that simple fact. It's not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens.


Sunday, August 21, 2011


I've learned to equate "clinical trials" of medications on people with illness as a terminal event, one step closer to death. It's just the places I've hung around, people I've worked with and things I've seen, but the the two -- Clinical trials & terminal -- just seem to go hand in hand.

One of my friends from way back when I was too smart for my own good, just told me she's in a "clinical trial". I felt sick...for her, and her family. She's so upbeat, so positive, so able to move through the day with a huge smile on her face. That same smile way back when, won her awards. Now they hide the sad fact that disease is ravaging her body.

I'll pray, I'll hope, I'll stay positive for her when we speak. But I've become acquainted again with mortality.

Friday, August 19, 2011

One, more, STEP

Seems like I've been studying medicine my whole life. Oh wait, I have! And it seems that it really all comes down to this set of two exams...Step2 "clinical knowledge" CK, and Step2 "clinical skills" CS. The entire reason for being comes down to two day of exams, one live with patient actors (and I use that term very loosely), and one "dead" day with a computer for 9 hours. Then sometime this fall, two email messages, and attached PDF's announcing the fate...Yay, or nay, to have the opportunity to graduate, get the MD in hand and move forward into the next part of training, the residency.

Rotations have been great. I'm in my element. I love the patient, the clinic, the learning, the relationships with staff, the smells, sounds and activity around healthcare. Lots of people are disgruntled in the field of healthcare, but I largely ignore them. Rotations are signs of things to come, residency and practice beyond. This really is the essence of why I did this in the first place. I am encouraged.


I thought she said "your ass" when I first heard the description of "what next" from one of my classmates. Actually E-R-A-S (residency) application. It is truly time consuming, but a necessary evil and it too continues getting ready for the 2012 match with 35,000 close medical friends who will also apply. Letters, documentation, work history, blah, blah, blah. Seems like I've been filing paperwork my whole life too. Oh wait; I HAVE!

So I study, and study, and study some more. It's a race against time, knowledge attrition, creeping dementia, boredom, mind numbing fear and a touch of ADHD. It's a balance between sitting for long hours, exercise, sleep, eating right and knowing just how much caffeine I can bear without overdosing.  It's keeping an eye on the prize and doing what it takes, even if I should have found "another career" (- career counselor, 1977). This 2nd step isn't the last step, but it's the one that really counts and "bookends" the process of the past 4 years. It's exhilarating, and frightening in one well wrapped package. My date with destiny coming very soon. Emails forthcoming.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Cycle Begins


It's that time of the year that those shooting for Match 2012 in March begin the cycle of paperwork, processes, letters of recommendation, applications and interviews begins. The cycle starts now, in July, and ends the day the "matches" are announced in March.

It's worth reflecting how the process ended in 2011. Match Day 2011 there were 30,589 "active" applicants, and 23,421 PGY-1 slots available. Over 7,000 walked away with nothing after many years of hard work and the effort. Many will apply again this cycle, but likely many will walk away into other fields of work and study.

It is the bottleneck. It is the part of the system that is the real problem with the system. Medical schools are expanding their class sizes even as new programs are created for new students, both D.O. and M.D. But the sad fact is that the number of positions in residency are not increasing as fast. Thus, more and more physician graduates will not have post graduate residency positions to enter. And the problem is only exacerbated by the number of physicians immigrating into the U.S. each year, also in the hunt for those positions.

And so the environment I enter now. I'm so impressed how little information is out there that is consistent to help make the many decisions that have to be made in the next months. I'm on a haywire way up high without a net. This "fly by wire" is a rush, but it be the first step back to waiting tables too!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Education of the Un-schooled Kind

I was really frightened many years ago, helping take care of my first cerebral palsy (CP) patient. There was this really grotesque looking and acting child with muscle spasms, head shakes, twitches and writing sitting in a wheel chair. I thought he would break. I thought I might break. But that was many 10's of 100's of patients ago and I'veimage heard and taken care of CP, cerebral palsy, patients forever. It's not a new name or category of care for me. But I've been schooled this past month. I really didn't know CP at all.  

Then I met and really hung out with a bunch of CP affected folks and their families. I really appreciate the experience and am so grateful for being able to hang with some of the most phenomenal but individually different CP folks ever. Everyone different from the next. Somewhere during the last few weeks in that experience there was a "click" of information (my anatomy, physiology and neurology) with reality. And after this intense month of talking with and experiencing these amazing young people, I now realize how diverse this group of patients is.

Cerebral palsy is considered a condition but it's really a waste basket term for everyone suffering from injury (usually some form of anoxia, low oxygen, at birth). It's more often thought of as a group of disorders that involves injury to the brain. But the problem is that the physical manifestation of the damage depends on which part of the brain and it's pathways are damaged. As a result, no two patients present the same and have differing combinations of functional deficits in movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. Each one is different.

The brain is huge and has between 10 billion to 100 billion neurons organized into cortices, pathways, areas and regions. Imagine all the different combinations of connections between those neurons and you have a number that is representative of the true nature of CP and the number of possible presentations.

So the first patient may have sight problems and motor control on the left side of his/her body. The next patient may have lower extremity problems and normal above the waist up. The next may have speech creating deficits and be unable to walk or hold a fork in the right hand but can with the left...and on, and on, and on go the variations.

But what I really learned I learned by hanging out with them and hearing their stories, successes, triumphs and fears. They are creative, fast thinking, smart for the most part with incredible senses of humor about themselves and others. They are dedicated, and grateful since they don't know what they don't have...they never had it. They are sincere, loving, hard working and diligent to find their niche in life while serving others. They really are, as one mother put it, incredible kids often trapped in bodies that just don't work. I really have been schooled...and I really am a better student, provider and person for having done so.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tis the Season

Tis the season, not to be jolly, but to apply. And so it begins...the 2012 Match ERAS season. This is the start of what will be the long months leading to the that fateful March date when everyone I know will be fighting for residency positions and hoping someone says to them..."we want you". I don't know if I'll make the 2012 match, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

It's a frightening process filled with more sources of information, speculation, advice, land mines and unknowns than I care to envision. All the elements must fall together in a pattern of "presentation" so the director of said residency programs feels you are a "match" with his/her vision of his/her specialty in imagehis/her community. Dean's letters, letters of recommendations, tokens, Step 1 scores, supplemental  applications, Step 2 CK and CS scores, grades and evaluations from rotations, etc etc. And then how to decide which specialty, at what program, where in the world?

Having watched good friends go through this process, it's really awful. It's not a system that really matches proportionally to the many factors that a person has. In many cases, your personality and bedside manner never see the light of day if you are a struggling test taker. Getting the interview..that's really the goal. And hopefully figuring out where your best chances of "match" are before you click "send" the applications out to the many programs.


And so it begins. I'll try to figure out this process and hope that each day I'll inch toward that letter of "we want you" and it'll be a place I really want to be. Marriage was easier. Actually, pulling that ice pick out of my leg was easier.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Sometimes within the madness, mayhem, schedules, rushes, indignities, cost over-rides, dissatisfaction, liability, pain, suffering, aggravation, selfishness, greed, industrialization, government oversight and processes of medicine...there are moments of pure giving, love, joy, healing, service and art.

I don't want to miss any more of those moments. Glad I didn't miss this one. It is the fuel for moving onward, even if I have to battle the testing beast soon. It a real honor to be involved in the relationships that have become my profession.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Transparency in Medicine


1. free from pretense or deceit
2. easily detected or seen through
3. readily understood
4. characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices


I am regularly struck by how much research patients often do before coming to the doctor. The Internet provides a full gateway of information and, unfortunately, misinformation about diseases, treatments and the system of medical practice. The Internet has been an effort to provide greater transparency in how we practice medicine and deliver healthcare. The written word seems to hold great validity to patients.

image Transparency is fundamental to the creating of trusting, nurturing relationships with each other, particularly between clinician and patient. If for a moment the patient believes that communication and information provided is full of pretense, lies, or is not understood, there is immediate breakdown of the relationship and (if medical social scientists are correct) the cooperation of the patient in his/her care or "compliance". So the real question, is there transparency in medicine?

The reality is that transparency is scary to clinicians and the system as a whole. There are elaborate efforts to fully but not completely, reveal the secrets of medicine and medical practice. The Internet has done major things to this "gap" but rely on patient understanding, so would seem to violate "readily understood" transparency. Has the Internet then helped or hurt?

Transparency in the system is really up to the clinician. It's not the patient role or within his/her ability to force transparency through the Internet or available information sources. While it's all "out there", it may not be all understood and may actually contribute to damaging the relationship between physician and patient as they often believe what they read over what is being said.

So in that lies the greatest opportunities for improving patient care, trust and compliance...creating transparency with each patient we encounter. Yet there are risks in doing so as magnified by the legal system. However, taking risk offers great rewards. We should embrace our fear with honesty and transparency.  But that would be in the perfect world with tort reform, liability caps and a system that supports that perspective. I'm not optimistic.

Another surgeon quit working this week. Tired of dealing with being questioned by everyone about how he practices. Another good surgeon, out to pasture.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


One of the unsung, unmentioned perks of medical education is the access to quality experiences of service. These opportunities come in small packages, like tiny and discreet words with patients or families. And they come in larger packages related to hearing about real community needs. I had the chance for a sort of large one, more medium in scope, but VERY LARGE in effect. I helped a family clean out an apartment of a family member who died from suicide after a long, long battle with cancer, drug abuse, alcoholism, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, heart failure, kidney failure and emphysema. The physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual benefit of this day long effort was tremendous.

But one of the most striking elements of this event was the short list for "shopping" the deceased had created before his death. He simply wrote on a small, pink Post-it note: "comet cleaner, scrips, beef w/barley."


I've been trying to wrap my head about around the whole experience and the grateful family for stepping up when few others did except to come salvage personal belongings of the deceased.

Cleaner, drugs and soup seems to punctuate the simplicity, commonality and routine of a life in great pain, alone, struggling in the end to find a reason to live, clean the apartment and eat, until it became why bother.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I am REALLY in my element.

A chance to cut is a chance to cure.

But the pathology is so, so devastating.


I am so blessed to be whole, and not have someone leaning over me wielding a scalpel.

Really looking forward to Easter weekend and the last days of Passover week. A great time to pause and give thanks.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How to Value Medical Students

Teaching is more than a business in medicine. Medical students, interns, residents and fellows have real needs. We all do. Address the needs and you make a friend for life and influence the future of medicine in a meaningful way. Such are the qualities of good clinical preceptors, teachers of medicine and surgery. I've had some good ones.

So what needs did he or she address? Certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth and contribution.

Learners want to know what's expected of them (certainty), experience a cross section of pathology (variety), feel they are important (significance), be a part of the team and treated as such (connection), learning (growing) and feel as if they have helped in a meaningful way (contribution).


It's hard to teach the importance of basic human needs to teachers,... individuals who are often struggling to have their own needs met.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Patient - Clinician Relationship

I have met some really good clinicians lately; Individual who create great environments of trust, communication and cooperative healing with patients.

It's really pretty simple. There is ALWAYS a gap between what we expect of our patients, and how they act. I've noticed that the most disturbed clinicians assume the worst about that gap. Positive, happy clinicians seem to believe the best, come to the defense of their patients, speak directly to the patient (and not in the hallway to others) about those gaps, and create REAL trust with the patient so he doesn't feel judged or persecuted when they come to visit.


"Do unto others (patients) as you would have them do unto you (if they were the doc)"...We should protect, trust, hope and persevere more.

It really is pretty simple and probably applicable to the rest of our relationships, even outside of work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Still Engaged

Whenever I engage solo or groups of physicians I really listen carefully to what they say about this profession. I try to discern what it is they do, how they feel about it and what they believe the future to be. I'm constantly reminded of how many physicians are unhappy with what they do and why. I hear complaints about patients, insurance companies, the government, systems, and on and on. I'm convinced that there are more unhappy people in medicine than any other profession, but I don't interact with any other profession (sampling bias).

So the other day I met a very interesting surgeon, visiting the area. He practices in a small country in imageAfrica and is the chief of surgery in a large (by African standards) teaching hospital. Listening to him speak you would have thought he had been given the gift of levitation. The pride and happiness almost oozed from his pores. It was a refreshing view into the life of a physician who really was happy with life and wholly feeling the "honor" of being a healer in a country desperately in need of healing on many levels.

One thing I'm certain of. I'm happy as a little clam. I love the content, the work, the patients, the material, the environment and the comrades. I'm learning to ignore the bitching and see past the complaining to the value in what we do and how we effect others. It's refreshing. Just hope I can maintain it thru this amazingly retarded system they call medical education.

And the surgeon, he invited me to do a "rotation" in Africa. Why not? I don't think Medicare is a discussion point there.

And exactly how do we know little clams are happy?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Eat the Eggs

Two days of lecture have me whipped. Sitting is becoming my least favorite activity in the mode of learning. Learning by doing (preferably walking, running or actively moving in some anatomical way) is my preferred. But the content was good and a reminder of how much I have to study before my next big exams. I need those subtle raps in the head occasionally. But what I didn't need was the rap to the GI tract. Note to self: Don't eat the eggs at a medical conference.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Inconvenient Truth

The truth is surgery has a terrible time clock, and doesn't respect time in any way. Things happen good and bad that alter the "clock" and have things start and end when they weren't supposed to, or expected. It's just the way it is, and everyone around us is supposed to know that, honor that and just bear with it. But still, it never feels quite right.

surgery book

And so it begins again.  My absolute and complete love-hate relationship with the discipline, or lack thereof, of surgery. We cannot escape the barber-istic past. So let the anesthesia begin.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sanity Defined

Sanity is being judged "of health & sound mind" and being to make well judged choices. The appearance of sanity seems to be the one thing everyone wants but really can never get when we finally understand the real truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...We are all a bit crazy. To the extent that that crazy affects your home, work, professional or other (activities of daily living) life is the extent that you are judged insane by professionals as guided by criteria set up in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

And now changes are coming to the DSM and the 5th edition is to be published for use in 2013.  Seems that the science (practiced now mostly as a subjective art in community practice) has been propagated by researchers who have generated a wealth of knowledge about mental disorders, biochemistry of behavior, the influence of genes and heredity on mental health, and other factors begging to be described and included in the new book.

It's been 18 years since the last revision (the one currently in place) and begs the question. Will what is now sane become insanity or will what is now insane become sanity with this revision? It is theoretically possible that patients deemed "normal" now will suddenly find themselves not so normal after the publication of a book. Fascinating!


And then, the psychiatry rotation was over. And God said it was good. And before he created the next rotation, he contemplated the sanity of man and deemed woman a pre-existing condition. Man seeking his sanity discovered electricity and ECT was born. Man chose electric shocks over woman. And all was good again.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Joan, Jane, John etc...Meet Dr., Dr. Dr.

My "Tara" experience came early in my psych experience.  "Tara" is the character played by Toni Collette on "The United States of Tara", the imageShowtime TV show about a middle-aged, married, mother of 2 kids who has dissociative identity disorder. For the older folks this disease is aka multiple-personality disorder (MPD) and was associated with "Eve" and "Sybil", who are unknown by my 20 something colleagues.

It became apparent very quickly that I was totally ill prepared for the Tara experience with my Barbara Bates (Hx and PE textbook author), linear, history and physical examination style. There is nothing linear about the "new patient" work-up of a multiple, particularly as the personalities come out and interject, or worse, correct each other. Such was my experience.

I sat with Joan, Jane, John and some other un-named personalities for a long time hearing the history, fact, details, summaries, ranting, ravings, lies, delusions and such. It was the most entertaining hour I've ever spent in medicine and I'm a better provider for it. But my real conundrum as a provider came the moment I sat, pen hovering over the progress note page, and tried to write this encounter up in some manner that was intelligible and demonstrated my expertise as a medical professional:

"Personality #1 (called herself Jane) related a history of sexual abuse at the hand of her father and noted no other physical, verbal, emotional, financial or sexual abuse history. Personality #2 (Joan, deeper voice with faster cadence and visible tremor left hand) immediately corrected "Jane" and noted that she had been financially abused by a Texan with a big car just a few day before this visit. Personality #3 (John) then noted that Jane was Jealous, and that Jane and John were really wanting the Texan's money..."

And so it went. And who was Jealous? John was actually talking about another personality, within a personality. Apparently personalities can have names of emotions  too...a variant presentation.

I have to admit, I felt a bit hoodwinked but still entertained. That's the thing about Psychiatry in general. There are no blood tests or real objective testing for many of the diseases we encounter. Such is the case with MPD, now DID. The interview is all we have. And if it is, we are totally unprepared. At least I am. But then, that was the best afternoons so far. No wonder Tara is a hit show on Showtime.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mental Health

Who we are, and how we respond to our environment as a living, breathing, interacting organism is a function of our nervous system. And that nervous system made of nerves, our spine and our brain is largely a function of chemicals...norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. So beyond limited therapies of counseling (a mainstay of psychiatric care), restraint (physical and chemical), and controversial surgical and electrical brain intervention; Psychiatry is largely an attempt to modify those chemicals.  Today, 4 % of men and 10 % of women in this country are taking antidepressants at any given time according to Dr. Julian Whitaker.

So the day to day operations of a psychiatry office, and the function of a student in that environment, is the management of those drugs that attempt to modify those chemicals. The drug names of many, varied, and imageoften entertaining....and  there are MANY, with new ones coming out almost hourly. You can barely get through a TV show without seeing a commercial for one.  We sell psychiatric illness and the "cure". It has become the mainstream of what we do in psychiatry and sales have skyrocketed from about $500 million to the current almost $60 BILLLION in only about 20 years. It is BIG business and the number of drug company sponsored lunches I have eaten while doing my psych rotation is testament to the amount of expendable dollars available due to these sales figures.

"The way to sell drugs is to sell psychiatric illness."----Dr. Carl Elliot, University of Minnesota Bioethicist (The Washington Post, 2001).

And while I feel well fed, and likely that some people actually need this care to survive life, much of what we do in psych is suspect at best and in some cases dangerous. Dr. Peter Breggin, M.D. says, "Going to a psychiatrist has become one of the most dangerous things a person can do", referring to the chemical approach to care.

And we continue to sell both disease and illness to a large percentage of "patients" walking thru the door, but the stories are largely of "life" and the stressors we encounter along the way. Has our ability to handle life and the massive stressors been exceeded or do we just look differently at that ability (and possible treatment)? It appears that current psychiatric practice is largely the latter.

"[W]e do not know the causes [of any mental disorder]. We don’t have the methods of ‘curing’ these illnesses yet.”----Dr. Rex Cowdry, director of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), testimony before a House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Hearing

But there are some severely wounded people out there with real, significant and life strangling psychiatric issues. And it's those people that we daily struggle to help live a life with some quality and as few bumps, injuries and maladies as possible. And it's largely that hope that keeps the doors open, and the drug company lunches coming. We really want to help those in need, but we continue to invent, modify, and alter need. It is a grand experiment for sure.


"Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."-- Samuel Goldwyn

"Biological psychology/psychiatry is a total perversion of medicine and science, and a fraud."— Neurologist Fred Baughman

"Psychiatry is probably the single most destructive force that has affected American Society within the last fifty years." – Dr. Thomas Szasz, Lifetime Fellow, American Psychiatric Association

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

One Down, Some To Go

The first rotation is about over and time to reflect and transition to the next. I've really enjoyed the site, preceptor and the plethora of pathology. GREAT learning for sure. I also know that a constant diet of diseased vaginas, cervices, uteri and ovaries won't be my full time gig anytime in the future. Great to know that I understand the nuances of the specialty though. I'm sure I'll see much of this again.


It's been quite the tour of the female system in health and wellness from the technically specific presentation on pipette removal of egg parts and sperm chromosome modification of grand rounds, to the more mundane emergent patient presentations of membrane rupture, premature labor and peri-natal bleeding. It's also been quite the education in the finances and politics of healthcare. A sad, sad commentary on how the U.S. treats it's citizens and the right to healthcare.

I find it fascinating that while we pay taxes to keep public school running in almost every state and jurisdiction in the country, we have the most split, fractioned mechanisms for providing basic health care to the populations most at need. I find it unconscionable that we spend billions on destruction and rebuilding other countries and find it hard to find moneys' to address the core nutrition, peri-natal, and women's health care services. To be more specific would violate HIPAA and many other federal laws, but to not feel the issue at the jugular level is inhumane.

So we move through the day, one patient at a time, doing what we can do. I appreciate that there are some seasoned clinicians who have the time, resources, morals and ethics to do what is necessary, when it's necessary for who needs it most. I've been lucky to meet and work with some of them this past month. Hope the next one is more of the same.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

No Wonder

A recent patient, all of 16, told her story in what we call the "history". It was clear that her problem was a gynecological infection and it was just a matter of getting to the final diagnosis and treatment through some easy, in office testing.

But I found myself hung up on the social history and explored that deeper than usual. How'd it come to this, I probed. What resulted was a scenario that left me with the feeling of "no wonder."

No competent family, parents or friends available or present. No one being attentive to education and social issues. No kindness, fun or light-hearted playing. No one to be playful when possible or serious when needed. No real love, forgiveness, honesty or truth around her. No appropriate feedback, critique, direction or guidance. Mostly hurtful words, being ignored, emails and texts not returned. No real genuine interest from others for her well being or needs. Nobody to share concerns with or speak the truth with. No respect, and no hellos, "how was your day." No open hearted love or trust, but plenty of vulnerability, people walking out or away, grudges, pride and ego. Most of all, nobody walking in, when everyone else was walking out and no unconditional acceptance, love or support.


This bout of a STD may not be the worst of her problems in life. The foundation has been cast, mostly on shifting sand dunes, empty promises, unkept responsibility and unattainable dreams. Pretty sure she'll be back, maybe pregnant next time.

Friday, January 28, 2011


There comes a moment of recognition on rotations that is hard to ignore and likely the core reason why we do this. It's that moment in time that I realized that I really enjoy learning, I've learned a lot, but I couldn't see myself doing this specialty full time. I really hope to help kick out a few babies in my career, but I'm certain I won't be doing OB/Gyn full time. That is both a relief and a hallmark moment on any rotation.


Still I need to learn all I can since I know with great certainty that while babies and vaginas are not my career passion, I will see this content on the boards I'm certain. And it has been a GREAT experience in many ways.

Case point: When 19 year old smokers come in 27 weeks pregnant with no history of pre-natal care, folic acid, nutrition / vitamin / supplement support, is it any wonder there are complications? The world of medicine if faced with very tough decisions indeed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

There I was left alone in the office with a woman seeking care while the attending walked down the hallway. You'd think that every disproportionately overweight woman (stomach bigger than the rest of her body) would be pregnant in an obstetric practice. At least that's what I thought.

"How's your pregnancy going?" I asked to try to break the uncomfortable silence and be the caring young professional that I am.

A look of sheer horror filled her face and I knew that I had done the un-done-able. "I'm not pregnant..." she said indignantly with wide and a 40 yard stare that filled in the rest of the sentence ( asshole).


Rule #234 of OB/Gyn:

Every overweight woman who walks into an OB/Gyn clinic setting is not pregnant.

Friday, January 14, 2011


It happened again. That scowl of judgement and prejudice. The FMG/IMG scowl from American trained physician and medical students. I'm getting used to it. imageBut should I have to? It's amazing how it feels and how it looks, but it is my reality. There are no American born/bred IMG/FMG students in the world today (and there are many 1000's of us) that wouldn't have liked to attend a U.S. school, but there simply are not the opportunities. So out of country is the only way for us. Why the scowl?

The truth is that International medical graduates fill many of the gaps in the U.S. system of medicine, as well as those gaps in other Westernized countries. But for many reasons that imageis seen as a lesser calling than say Orthopaedic Surgery or Dermatology. Foreign school provide opportunities for the student and help fill those gaps. And IMG's have had a very positive effect on the U.S. system by providing care in extraordinary ways, in places that most U.S. grads can't or won't go.

There is an increasing number of U.S. citizens attending international medical schools. We are the U.S.I.M.Gs. we are the many Americans who attend schools in the Caribe, Central and South America, Mexico, Asia and Europe. We work hard to prove ourselves and return to practice in the states. We sit for the same school exams and NBME boards as our U.S. trained colleagues. We do rotations for the most part, in U.S. clinics and hospitals.  We know that we want medicine, but sometimes we are not sure that medicine wants us. Yet we continue. And we endure the scowl.

Almost 300,000 IMGs, 25% of the American physician population, have entered the practice of medicine in the U.S. And about 1/4 of them are U.S. born and bred. Another 1/4 are from the Philippines, India and Pakistan. And while the history has meandered, we now all (U.S. and foreign students) take the same Step 1, 2CS, 2CK and 3 exams to gain license and practice privilege in the U.S. 

The American health care system relies on IMGs to supplement an ever-increasing demand for health care, particularly in light of the baby-boomer generation entering their geriatric years.  Only 40% of primary care positions (internal medicine, pediatrics and family medicine) are filled by U.S. grads. But that tide may change as the number of slots for medical students in U.S. school is rising (up to 30% increase over the next years). For the recent past and future, IMGs will continue to fill those gaps.

So the scowls continue, but seem to based on an old system of prejudices that hang on for dear life. Discrimination has been felt by many in my position as we are seen as less competent or able to practice medicine. And I'll do whatever it takes to counter that old argument.