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.

Four Reasons to Love your Nurses

There are hundreds of reasons to thank our nurses every day, and not just for National #NursesWeek. Nurses are on the front lines and are often the first to meet our patients. We rely on them to be efficient, brilliant and caring – all at the same time.   Here are our Top Four Reasons to Love Nurses:   They are caretakers – Most nurses enter the nursing profession, not because it is glamorous or pays well, but because they truly compassionate. They want to help sick people get well, but they also want to help doctors to do their job as best they can. Nurses go the extra mile after our patients when we can’t always be there. They are educators – In his book, “Kill as Few Patients as Possible,” Dr. Oscar London explains that “working with a good nurse is one of the great joys of being a doctor. I cannot understand physicians who adopt an adversarial relationship with nurses. They are depriving themselves of an education in hospital wisdom.” Nursing school is not easy, and, just like medical school, it takes a smart and driven person to succeed. Through their broad range of experiences and close contact with patients, nurses have a lot to teach both doctors and almost-doctors. They listen – Usually, our patients’ first interactions are with our nurses. Whether someone walks in with...

Can Punishing Medical Errors Make Hospitals Safer?

In January, Medicare cut federal payments to 769 hospitals, continuing a program of punishing hospitals for errors and avoidable complications, such as blood clots, falls and bed sores. For the first time these penalties also included hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infections. Mandated by the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is required to penalize the bottom 25% of the worst performing hospitals, even if they’ve shown a reduced rate of incidents from year to year. In the years since the penalties took effect, they had the unintended consequence of disproportionately reducing funding in teaching hospitals and for patients in low-income areas with limited access to services. This prompted congress to legislate a socioeconomic adjustment when evaluating hospital performance.   While the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) estimates that hospital-acquired conditions have declined 21% from 2010 to 2015, there were still an estimated 3.8 million hospital injuries in 2016: 115 injuries for every 1,000 patient stays. Specialized hospitals, such as those for children, rehabilitation, cancer, veterans and psychiatric treatment are exempt from the financial penalties.   Reporting by the Kaiser Family Foundation has found that readmission rates started falling in 2012 and have continued, suggesting that more hospitals have taken up preventative measures for hospital acquired infections and preventable readmissions, and that overall the impact of the penalties is less than 1% of the reimbursable amount for a re-admission.   Image:...

Diagnosing Genetic Disorders with Facial Recognition Technology

With advancing technology, you can see a doctor from home using FaceTime or send a pic of your mole for a cancer diagnosis. And now, the same technology that automatically tags your photos on Facebook can help doctors diagnose rare genetic diseases.   Facial recognition technology dates all the way back to 1964, when computer programmers starting teaching their computers how to recognize human faces. Early operations could process about 40 pictures an hour in an attempt to match similar features using coordinates between pupils, outside corners of the eyes, hairline, etc. Early attempts struggled to cope with variations from photo to photo if the subject wasn’t posed in exactly the same position. In the mid-2000s, the Face Recognition Grand Challenge was sponsored by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, among others, to bring attention and innovation to facial recognition technology.   Image: Source   Now, researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) have produced software that uses facial recognition technology to help diagnose DiGeorge syndrome. A rare genetic disease, DiGeorge syndrome is caused by a defect in chromosome 22. Although its effects vary from person to person, the syndrome can result in cleft palate, low calcium levels, heart defects and a weakened immune system. There is no cure, but early interventions can improve the patient’s outlook through relevant treatments.   The breakthrough is particularly important...

Med School Teaching Innovations

Until recent years, the whole concept of medical school has remained largely unchanged – 2 years of basic science and 2 years of clinical practice with many teachers working off the experiential education model of “see one, do one, teach one.” But advances in education theory and the shifting nature of the medical profession have prompted medical schools to re-evaluate the standard educational program in order to achieve better learning outcomes and to reflect the experience of being a doctor in the real world. Here are some things they are trying:   Flipping the classroom In a typical course, students go to class, sit through a few hours of lectures and then go home to do coursework such as solving practice problems or writing papers on their own time. In the “flipped” classroom, students listen to or watch lectures on their own time, via video clips online or podcasts, before attending class. This allows classroom time to be spent tackling practice problems through group work, guided discussions or debates. Research has shown that this flipped system results in “significant learning gains when compared to traditional instruction.” One theory is that after watching lectures at home, students can immediately apply what they’ve learned the night before, which increases uptake and processing of the desired skills. It’s also a chance for professors to provide feedback on any questions or misconceptions about...

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...