sanguinemare

September 21, 2013

Turning back the hidden curriculum, how reading novels improves your brain, and one of the keys to happiness

In the medical profession, people talk a lot about the “hidden curriculum”, which is the message that we as medical students get indirectly from peers, faculty, residents, and other higher-ups in the hierarchy chain.  This can be anything to lecturers casually slipping in jokes about how everyone in the profession drinks to things like how being a primary care physician is both too easy and too hard to do well (that is in itself another discussion).  But one thing that also trickles down is the unspoken expectation that doctors need to be “professional,” which sometimes may seem synonymous with “emotionless,” which over time translates to jaded physicians.  This is something I sometimes worry will happen to me when I come back from my PhD based on stories from friends, and something that I actively want to fight, even during my PhD.  That’s why what this article in the NY Times is talking about, as well as the Healer’s Art course mentioned in it, is something I strongly agree with.  I think this is a dialogue that should always be kept open among students and faculty alike.  Healing is not merely about the healing the physical body, but also the mind and soul as well.

Here’s another interesting article about how reading something affects your brain, and helps your brain process information in a similar way as if you were actually experiencing the action physically.  I also like this paragraph, as it somewhat justifies my love of fiction hehe 😛 (and also supports my belief that children should not be allowed to watch TV all day, especially at a young age): “Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective. This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind — an effect that was also produced by watching movies but, curiously, not by watching television.”  Of course there’s always the argument that fMRI’s are not that great of a way to determine what’s actually going on, as it’s mostly correlation and depends heavily on interpretation, but still an interesting thought nonetheless.

And lastly, here is a fun, touching experiment that helps validate a scientific study that one of the things we can do that is a key contributor to happiness is expressing gratitude.

December 28, 2011

Weird/crazy medical news

1. So, you’d think that stomach acid would dissolve things like pens, especially if one’s been sitting in it for 25 years.  Or at least render it non-functional.  Not so the case for this lady: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2076632/The-pen-mightier-stomach-Surgeons-remove-felt-tip-25-years-woman-swallows–works.html?ITO=1490

It’s also a good reminder to doctors not to dismiss what patients say, regardless of how lucrative it sounds, because strange things do happen!

2. This is an interesting story of how a woman was “saved by her son while he was in the womb” because he apparently kicked a tumor from her stomach to her appendix.  It was her first realization that something was wrong and needed to be checked out (due to the extreme pain) and she got the necessary treatment and is doing well.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2076507/Mothers-life-saved-son-womb-kicked-tumour.html

I also thought it was a good demonstration of how journalists can put a particular spin/slant on a story to make it appeal to the emotions of the readers in a certain way or enhance the sensationalism (“wow, a baby saved his mom before he was even born!” vs. the depressing “a pregnant woman finds out she has cancer”).  Regardless, I’m glad they are both doing well 🙂

3.  This last one is not really weird or crazy, but it is medical/health-related!  Although we all probably already know that exercise and running is good for us, here is even more evidence to support that theory: http://lifestyle.ca.msn.com/health-fitness/health/strong-minded

Apparently, running helps stimulate neurogenesis (growing of new neurons), angiogenesis (growing of new blood vessels), helps memory and decision-making centers in the brain, and helps stave off depression.  Yay, exercise!  I would imagine that a lot of it has to do with better circulation of blood flow (and therefore oxygen) in the body and the brain.  And I’ve read/heard a lot about how exercise helps depression… maybe instead of prescribing drugs for this, we should be prescribing exercise regimes (monitored, at least for the first month or so to ensure compliance)!  Hmm, food for thought.

December 5, 2011

Interesting reads

Haven’t had much time to update lately, but here are some (semi-) medically relevant links that I’ve read fairly recently that I thought were interesting.

1.  Apparently, some people are working on growing meat from cells (called “invitro meat”) through bioreactors.  It’s an interesting concept, and would eliminate the need to kill animals for food.  I wonder if vegans are vegetarians who are currently on their respective diets because they are against cruelty to/killing of animals would be fine eating this kind of meat.  At any rate, it is much better than the Japanese poop burger solution to this problem (and this one is actually real, at least as far as I can tell :P)

2.   We’re currently studying microbiology in med school for these next couple of weeks, so this article on an antiviral therapy fits right up our alley.  As a general rule, there are lots of treatments for bacterial infections through antibiotics, but there aren’t very many that target viruses effectively, and those that do only target a specific virus, or have many bad side effects.  However, these scientists seem to have created something called a “Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer” (DRACO), which basically only targets cells with viral dsRNA and causes them to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell death).  They’ve shown that it’s effective in 15 different viruses and that it does not harm normal, uninfected cells.  Pretty exciting.  I would like to see them apply this to more chronic, life-threatening viruses as well in the future though, such as HIV, hepatitis A-C, etc.  But it’s definitely a hopeful start.

3. Teaching Good Sex – This article was about a high school sex ed teacher that came up with innovative activities and ideas for his students, encouraging discussion and challenging his students to think deeper about the questions at stake.  While I’m not advocating for premartial sex by any means, I think the style of teaching is a great one – to give students a place where they feel comfortable asking hard questions and examine their own feelings, insecurities, and plain curiosities, in a safe environment.  Much better to be frank about it rather than to hide things under a corner and hope things don’t happen.  And I like how the class is a balance – it’s neither the idea of “abstinence is the only way,” nor is it the resigned attitude of “let’s talk about/pass out condoms so you guys can do it safely, since you’ll be doing it anyway.” Rather, it is a medium through which better understanding can be made.  Honestly, I think once questions and concepts are demystified and can be seen more analytically (and appreciated for its wonder), people are much more likely to make informed decisions, and less likely to do things out of (presumed) peer pressure or curiosity.  That’s my opinion on almost anything by the way, not just this topic.

4. Finally, here is a more somber article (but a great read!) one of my classmates posted on our class Facebook page (don’t get intimidated by the length of the sidebar – most of it is due to comments).  It’s an interesting commentary on how when doctors have to make life or death choices for themselves, they often choose the route with the least medical interference and go peacefully.  This is because they “know enough about modern medicine to know its limits…They want to be sure, when the time comes, that no heroic measures will happen—that they will never experience, during their last moments on earth, someone breaking their ribs in an attempt to resuscitate them with CPR (that’s what happens if CPR is done right).”  The rest of the article also addresses this discrepancy between what patients think they want, versus what is reasonable and what the doctors would advise.  There is so much hidden pressure and confusion in the system we currently have ingrained in us that contribute to the tragedies in medical care happening all the time.  We are so caught up in the idea of prolonging life, doing “everything possible” to save someone, but how do we know it would not cause undue and prolonged suffering instead?  Because of this mentality, most people don’t even realize there’s another choice.  The author mentions how “[A]mazingly, studies have found that people placed in hospice care often live longer than people with the same disease who are seeking active cures.”  Death that is pain free and with dignity.  How lovely.  I am a first year medical student, and already, if I am ever confronted with a terminal condition, I am leaning towards the choice of letting go (medically) and enjoying my last days in peace.

Happy reading!

Blog at WordPress.com.