Women in medicine

While I haven’t written in a while, I wanted to share this article because it discusses a topic close to heart: women in medicine.

It’s no small fact that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, and specifically in medicine. With nearly 2/3 of the medical field being male, one becomes curious about the factors leading to this inequality. Long hours and lower pay are considerable elements, though workplace discrimination is lately creeping into the picture:

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/05/15/528168990/doctors-who-are-moms-say-they-face-discrimination-at-work

This article discusses workplace discrimination in the medical setting towards women who breastfeed, take maternity leave, etc. This is not something new, but a topic finally reaching public attention. The article doesn’t offer a clear solution but points to the fact that this most prevalent topic deserves more attention and more understanding. Last year at the Society for Neuroscience Conference, I attended a panel on women in science to hear their perspectives on being prominent female neuroscience researchers and how they balanced their family/no family personal life. It resonated with me, a resounding agreement between all panelists, that proper parenting, time with children, and time with family needs to be normalized for both women and men. One researcher poignantly commented on how she felt it was her duty to step out of her office in the afternoon to take her daughter to the doctor’s office as much as it was her duty to complete her next grant to fund laboratory research. She also strongly asserted that father’s should feel as much pride, comfort, and acceptance in doing the same.

 

Stereotypical parenting is waining. So is the stereotypical work environment and stereotypical household structure.  Yes there exists the range of good parents already, but what needs to change is the shock over a mom needing to breastfeed at work or take an appropriate amount of time off for maternity leave to raise a human being. It also shouldn’t be a shock for dad to be involved in the same or similar ways.

 

Back to the point though, of women in medicine and STEM fields. A friend recently recanted a story to me where her professor, at an ivy league institution, used a rape analogy to explain something in the class (totally unwarranted btw…). I admire people this friend who internalize a sense of social responsibility, because she actually confronted the professor about the incident in an op-ed to the class and spoke to him in person as well as to the class about his remarks. Unsurprisingly, he apologized for the comments yet admitted that he wasn’t even aware of the sexist and unwelcome connotations. She then worked with her professor to improve understanding of gender bias in traditionally male dominated fields, pointed to certain experiences women deal with everyday, and suggested ways he could address future classes that would expose gender stereotypes in science a relieve this gap. Everything counts. At heart, the issue seems to be a problem of awareness and empathy for someone different than you (this also applies to basically every other problem in the world… no?)

I do find it a personal duty to be a woman in science, a neuroscientist specifically, as well as someone who wants to balance a family one day.  I hope that discrimination at large keeps getting brought to the table, day in and day out, as incessantly tiring as it may be, until individuals can see through another person’s eyes just what it took to be.

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Some interesting articles at the end of 16′

On improving medical student well being:

http://newsroom.cumc.columbia.edu/blog/2016/12/13/changes-in-learning-environment-may-improve-medical-student-well-being/

(…but should the focus be stress reduction or stress resilience?)

The ACA and what to do with it:

https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/repeal-and-delay-would-jeopardize-care/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=AAMCNewsRelease12092016

On more compassionate and comprehensive care:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/spirituality-and-health-care_us_58055adae4b0b994d4c10f6f?4wcrj9em7ysj7nwmi

Burnout in medicine:

http://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2016-12-15/national-academy-to-tackle-burnout-in-medicine

From psychedelics to physician burnout

Day 2 and Day 3 of ISCS 2016 were full of fantastic lectures, people, and conversations. I heard from Zindel Segal PhD from the University of Toronto-Scarborough on mindfulness therapeutics in the promotion of metal health, Judson Brewer MD, PhD from Yale University and University of Massachusetts Medical School on the neurobiological underpinnings of contemplative practice, and Sarah Bowen PhD on integrating contemporary behavioral and traditional contemplative approaches towards effective behavioral change. I also heard from Rael Cahn PhD from the University of a South Carolina, Alexander Paleos MD from NYU School of Medicine, and Roland Griffith from Johns Hopkins School of a Medicine on the role of psychedelic medicine and research, such as with psylocybin, in the field of contemplative studies. Lastly, I had the pleasure of meeting Tawni Tidwell TMD, the first westerner to successfully complete and traditional Tibetan medical education and training and earn a degree in Tibetan medicine.

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My favorite lecture over the past two days was by Chloe Zimmerman, an upcoming medical school student at Brown University, Michael Krasner MD from University of Rochester medical school, and Patricia Lück, an independent mindfulness medical educator, on “healing medicine: evidence for contemplative practices in cultivating resilience, compassion, and well-being in medical education.” The heart of their message focused on physician burnout and the growing number of tired and”de-empathized” medical professionals who end up losing satisfaction in a career field that is most rewarding. — The Surgeon General Vivek Murthy MD, MBA frequently addresses this point along with increasing rates of physician suicide.–  Ms. Zimmerman’s research at Brown showed that medical students’ mental health and life satisfaction decline throughout medical school but was rescued through a cognitively-based compassion training program (preliminary data though). This was also interestingly correlated with heart rate variability, which you can check out some recent research on the topic here.

The prevalence of physician burnout is unfortunate and frightening; for a speciality whose focus is on caring for others, one hopes that the professional cares for himself too. On one hand, the training is supposed to be difficult because in the end, you are responsible for another human being’s life. On the other hand, how can the quality of training be improved so that the caliber of medical knowledge and precision of medical skill remains, alongside compassion for both patient and provider? For this reason, medical schools and other academic institutions are bringing more attention to supporting the mental and physical health of their students. Some efforts include certain extrinsic and intrinsic motivators like earning wellness points for attending the gym or yoga classes like at Penn State College of Medicine or a mindfulness and resilience training course required for all first year medical students at St. Louis University School of medicine focusing on internal development.

Richie Davidson PhD at Madison-Wisconsin SoM points out that compassion and mental wellbeing are learned habits as well as trainable habits. We have a natural ability to be resilient, but the skill grows and shrinks throughout life depending on current support systems and life’s experiences. When academic or personal strain can be great, it seems like an unarguable conclusion to teach students, professionals, and others with coping skills that enable us to better manage stress, to develop a better work-life balance, and to ultimately live with more fulfillment and self-satisfaction [see previous post on The Science of Resilience – a three day initiative at Barnard College on teaching mindfulness based attention-training and positive-psychology skills to an undergraduate community]. Although there is an upward trend in studying the benefits of mindfulness, a major concern is that the essence of a personal practice to maintain balance is commodified to look like the “perfect-pill” for treating stress. What should be a quiet and highly attentive practice has turned into a “McMindfulness” of the 21st century (thanks Dr. Davidson for the term).

For this reason, honest, rigorous, and well intended scientific research must continue and be supported –thank you to the Mind and Life Institute and universities like UMass, Brown, Harvard, Univ. of South Carolina, and Univ. of Arizona for doing just this!

 

 

What a time to be alive

With much excitement I return to wordpress to write about two conferences I am currently attending in San Diego, CA.

The first is the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies which aims to bring together academics, researchers, scientists, clinicians, and educators who are interested in integrating western neuroscience with eastern contemplative practices to ameliorate human suffering.

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Yesterday was the first day of the conference where I heard from people like Susan Bauer Wu, president of the Mind and Life Institute, Richie Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Matthieu Ricard, former molecular geneticist turned Buddhist monk.

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This is my second time attending ISCS; the first time I attended was in Boston, MA in 2014 after my study abroad to India with Emory University on the Emory Tibet Mind-Body program. There I had the honor of listening to the HH the Dalai Lama speak along with Arianna Huffington and other great thinkers.

Overlapping with ISCS is the Society for Neuroscience Conference which I’ll be attending and presenting at, with my wonderful lab mates from Dr. Christine Denny’s laboratory in New York. We come in a band of six to discuss molecular therapeutics in promoting stress-resilience.

Much more to come.

The Art of Healing

The Art of Healing

W.H. Auden

(In Memoriam David Protetch, M.D.)

Most patients believe
dying is something they do,
not their physician,
that white-coated sage,
never to be imagined
naked or married.

Begotten by one,
I should know better. ‘Healing,’
Papa would tell me,
‘is not a science,
but the intuitive art
of wooing Nature.

Plants, beasts, may react
according to the common
whim of their species,
but all humans have
prejudices of their own
which can’t be foreseen.

To some, ill-health is
a way to be important,
others are stoics,
a few fanatics,
who won’t feel happy until
they are cut open.’

Warned by him to shun
the sadist, the nod-crafty,
and the fee-conscious,
I knew when we met,
I had found a consultant
who thought as he did,

yourself a victim
of medical engineers
and their arrogance,
when they atom-bombed
your sick pituitary
and over-killed it.

‘Every sickness
is a musical problem,’
so said Novalis,
‘and every cure
a musical solution’:
You knew that also.

Not that in my case
you heard any shattering
discords to resolve:
to date my organs
still seem pretty sure of their
self-identity.

For my small ailments
you, who were mortally sick,
prescribed with success:
my major vices,
my mad addictions, you left
to my own conscience.

Was it your very
predicament that made me
sure I could trust you,
if I were dying,
to say so, not insult me
with soothing fictions?

Must diabetics
all contend with a nisus
to self-destruction?
One day you told me:
‘It is only bad temper
that keeps me going.’

But neither anger
nor lust are omnipotent,
nor should we even
want our friends to be
superhuman. Dear David,
dead one, rest in peace,

having been what all
doctors should be, but few are,
and, even when most
difficult, condign
of our biassed affection
and objective praise.

~one of my favorite poems

~~ by my favorite poet