laurie-breen

Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.

Making Medical School More Compassionate

For the most part, we study to become doctors because we want to help people. We want to save lives, heal the sick and make the world a better place. But when these dreams come up against the intense pressures of medical school, students can feel helpless and out of control. And in the worst cases, some commit suicide.   Image: Source   To prevent these tragedies, medical schools are taking steps to become more compassionate in their training programs, both to help students succeed and to foster a sense of compassion towards their patients. Studies have shown that medical students start to lose their empathy within the very first year of medical school. This puts a hamper on patient communication and can limit the doctor-patient relationship, one of the characteristics most valued by patients. But it’s no wonder that students are losing empathy amidst the med school grind.   After recent tragedies, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is taking deliberate steps to make their medical training more compassionate. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the Dean for Medical Education, David Miller explained that “Medical school is a cauldron,” with residents who “feel very often helpless and hopeless, the machine is intense and churns on relentlessly.” In an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, Muller describes the compassion he found from colleagues, students and...

Would You Google a Patient?

With social media permeating our lives, the lines between professional life and personal life often become blurred. Going on a first date? A quick Google search can give you a glimpse into your date’s life and potential conversation topics. Taking a class with a new professor? Google will give you a heads-up as to his or her professional interests or recent publications. Have an appointment for a check-up with a new doctor? Many websites will give you patient reviews and ratings of the practice.   …But what if your doctor is Googling you right back?     Researchers have had the better part of two decades to figure out if doctors could use social media to the benefit of their patients, but there still seems to be a wary skepticism among med school students and practicing physicians of all ages that prevents investigation of potential benefits. After all, knowledge is power, but it often comes with an ethical dilemma.   Research from James Brown et al at the University of Sydney found that 1 in 5 doctors surveyed had received a “friend request” from a patient. A similar survey from Bosslet et al found that 93.5% of medical students surveyed used social media in their everyday lives, but it was practicing physicians who were more likely to have looked up the profile of a patient or patient’s family members...

Influential Women in Medicine: Gertrude B. Elion

Although she never obtained an M.D. or a formal Ph.D., Gertrude Belle Elion’s influence on medicine is indisputable. A biochemist and pharmacologist, her work paved the way for breakthroughs in cancer and leukemia medication that would save thousands of lives.   Image: Source   Elion was born in New York in 1918 to Polish and Lithuanian immigrant parents. When she was 15, her grandfather died from cancer, which gave her the drive to want to cure diseases. In 1937, at age 19, she graduated from Hunter College with an undergrad degree in chemistry. Although she applied for fifteen graduate school fellowships, she was rejected from all of them.   Eventually she landed a position as a chemistry lab assistant. After saving some money from this position, Elion enrolled in grad school at New York University and was the only woman in her class. She worked during the day as a substitute teacher and studied at night, earning an MSc in chemistry in 1941.   After holding a few laboratory jobs that didn’t really fuel her interests, Elion was offered an assistant position by George Hitchings at Burroughs-Wellcome (later GlaxoSmithKline). Elion was excited by the opportunities to use her knowledge, not only in chemistry, but also biochemistry, pharmacology, immunology and virology. While working on antagonists of nucleic acid building blocks by day, she commuted to night school to earn her...

OTC Painkillers: How Dangerous Are They?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or “NSAIDs” are sold over the counter in grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies, even though research has long shown that they can be dangerous for people with kidney disease, heart failure or high blood pressure. NSAIDs can also produce adverse reactions when they interact with other medications, both prescription and non-prescription, including antidepressants, antihypertensives, alcohol or aspirin.   However, two new studies, one from BMJ and the other from the European Heart Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy have shown again that NSAIDs may be associated with increased risk of heart failure and cardiac arrest. In BMJ, Arfe et all utilized healthcare databases from four European countries to find adults who began NSAID treatment between 2000-2010. The authors found that the use of any NSAID was associated with a 19% increase of risk of hospital admission for heart failure, with some variation for the type of NSAID and the dosage.   Image: Source   Sondergaard et al utilized the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry to identify patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and identified patients who had used an NSAID within the 30 days before their cardiac arrest. They found that ibuprofen and diclofenac were associated with a significantly increased risk of cardiac arrest.   Image: Source   This new evidence, along with other studies that have shown the potential for gastric damage and impaired ability to recover after...

Influential Women in Medicine: Elizabeth Blackwell

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. She graduated from Geneva Medical College in New York in 1849 and later co-founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.   Image: Source   Originally from Gloucestershire, England, Elizabeth grew up in a large family. Her father had a liberal view of education and believed that all his children, including the girls, should be well educated and so Elizabeth grew up with a governess and private tutors. After her family moved to Cincinnati, Elizabeth became a teacher herself, got involved in local politics and began to advocate for women’s rights.   Eventually, Elizabeth grew weary of teaching positions and resolved to save enough money for medical school, around $3,000. She even moved to Philadelphia in hopes of getting into a medical school there, but was unable to find one that would accept her. She was told over and over that her “inferior” female brain wasn’t up to the job, but, on the off chance she would be able to do it, the male physicians didn’t want the competition. One sympathetic physician suggested that she should disguise herself as a man to try to get in.   Image: Source Geneva Medical College, c. 1848   Finally, Hobart College in upstate New York, which was then called Geneva Medical College, decided to give her...

The Hidden Killer: Salt

Food fads and trends are an unavoidable nuisance – one day Gwyneth bakes kale chips on Ellen and suddenly everyone is eating kale until we are all totally and completely sick of kale – kale ice cream, anyone? With today’s focus on low fat and low sugar options, we have learned to check the labels for all different kinds of sugars (glucose, sucrose, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, barley malt, dextrose, rice syrup, etc.) and we can compare saturated, unsaturated and trans fats in our sleep. But in response, food manufacturers have been racing to provide tasty foods that fit those diet criteria, and in some cases, that means LOTS of salt – even in foods we don’t usually think of as “salty.”   It’s well known that sodium intake is a factor in many health problems, raising blood pressure and contributing to kidney and cardiovascular disease. Other studies have linked salt to cancer, asthma, Meniere’s disease, osteoarthritis and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends “no more than 2,300 mg per day and an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day for most adults.” It’s not enough to avoid the saltshaker, as more than 75% of sodium intake comes from prepackaged, processed or restaurant foods.   Image: Source   Recent analysis in Australia has found that one of the biggest culprits of hidden sodium is, surprisingly, bread. Even what is...

Influential Women in Medicine: Metrodora

Although women have long been considered the caregivers to their family members and communities, women weren’t formally allowed to become physicians until pretty recently. But throughout history there have been women who fought the tides of tradition and became influential physicians in their own right.   Image: Source   Metrodora was a Greek physician somewhere between 200-400 CE. Although a few rare women physicians are known from this time period, such as Aspasia, also from Greece, Metrodora is the author of the oldest surviving medical text written by a women, called On the Diseases and Cures of Women. In keeping with the ancient traditions of midwifery, it was common at the time for women to assist with childbirth and some aspects of gynecology.  However, Metrodora’s book was unusual because it covered many other areas of medicine, but not obstetrics, at least not in the surviving manuscripts. Rather than focusing on obstetrics, she was clearly most interested in pathology and was greatly influenced by Hippocrates. Her manuscript made clear that medicine wasn’t just a scholarly interest for Metrodora, but that she took an active hands-on approach to treatment and she discusses her own observations from examinations. She was one of the first to suggest surgical treatment for both breast and uterine cancers.   Image: Source   Her manuscript was translated into Latin somewhere between the 3rd and 5th centuries, and was...