Why I Didn’t Do Research

You may or may not be aware from reading my prior writings that for a time, I was considering a career in research. I worked in labs during every summer through college, and even though I didn’t do any research during med school and not a whole lot during residency, I actually ended up doing a research fellowship. Also, I have research in my blood. My father is a physician who gets a chunk of his salary from research grants. My mother didn’t go quite so far as that, but did publish around a hundred peer-reviewed articles during her career. My father especially encouraged me to incorporate research into my career, saying that it was interesting and also provided extra career flexibility. So anyway, I did this fellowship. And it sucked. I mean, it was pretty much The Fellowship Where Everything Went Wrong. I know what you’re thinking, that it’s not possible for a research fellowship to go that badly. Well, what if your research mentor is arrested and goes to jail midway through the year? I’m not saying that happened. But I’m not saying that didn’t happen either. Bad fellowship aside, I did get a taste of what it was like to do research. There were some parts of it I liked very much. For example, I really liked when the article I wrote came out, and I...

The HIV Organ Policy Equity Act: Spreading HOPE

I pushed down on the edge of the worn fabric of the auditorium seat and felt the metal frame push back on my fingertips. The white foam of the cushion peeked through the red threads of the dusty seat. Scanning across the auditorium, my eyes took note of the press personnel and cameras pointed towards the stage. I sat in awe during the live media briefing where my mentors announced that the first HIV-to-HIV liver transplant in the world was just successfully performed at our transplant center. “In 2008, Dr. Elmi Muller was the first surgeon in the world to perform HIV positive-to-HIV positive deceased donor kidney transplantation.” In 2008, Dr. Elmi Muller was the first surgeon in the world to perform HIV positive-to-HIV positive (HIV-to-HIV) deceased donor kidney transplantation. Recognizing the tremendous impact this could have in the US, my research group (Epidemiology Research Group in Organ Transplantation, ERGOT) wrote the landmark HIV Organ Policy Equity Act (HOPE Act), which reversed a long outdated ban on HIV-to-HIV organ transplantation, created in the 1980s. ERGOT shepherded the passage of the HOPE Act through Congressional and Presidential approval in November 2013. “Signed into law November 2013 and implemented in November 2015, the HOPE Act opened the door for HIV-positive candidates to receive and donate organs.” Today, HOPE transplants are taking place in the US, UK, and South Africa. For World’s AIDS Day 2018,...

The Power of Maintaining Relationships in Medical School

I recently got a talking to from my best friend because I had not talked to her in 6 months. The unfortunate truth of being a student is that you rarely have free nights and weekends. Maintaining relationships (friendship, romantic, or family) can be challenging when school work transcends all boundaries of your life. I always feel like I have something to study and don’t quite have real Saturday’s. Sleeping in, for example, is a luxury. In the case of my friend, she was a student when were in college 6 years ago. I forgot that she forgot what being a student is like. One of the key skills you must master as a student is time management. And that skill should apply to all aspects your life, especially your personal life. The weeks I do not have much time to catch up with my home friends or family are terrible for me. Your relationships outside of school work are critical to keep you sane and happy. They act as a buffer from the daily stress. Being able to talk about your day is such a huge relief, especially with someone who isn’t in the trenches with you. Venting to a classmate helps, but I rarely get as much out of the conversation as I do when talking to someone completely removed from the situation. My relationships also give...

The Media & Medicine Movement

I was honored to be one of this year’s Donate Life Hollywood featured projects for my documentary film, In Absence of Evidence. But what I was even more privileged to be a part of was the media and medicine movement. Many in and outside of medicine enjoy watching medical dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, and ER, to name a few. But as they continue in their studies as medical professionals, they also begin to realize how inaccurate the shows can be. Donate Life Hollywood (DLH) is a national campaign serving as a liaison between the organ, eye, and tissue donation community and the entertainment industry. Their goal is to help Hollywood write authentic and positive donation and transplant storylines by simplifying access to expert consultation, spotlighting dramatic stories, and featuring medical breakthroughs in an accurate way. “Research shows that when television shows perpetuate myths about donation, they cost lives.” Research shows that when television shows perpetuate myths about donation, they cost lives. During its original tenure, Donate Life Hollywood built a partnership that led to a 6 percent increase in the public’s willingness to register as donors, the largest single-year increase the Donate Life community has ever seen. “An alliance between journalists and scientists should be about celebrating the creativity of the human mind. It should be about fostering critical thinking and valuing vetted knowledge.” A recent and...

A Vignette from Haiti

I am a huge proponent of hands-on experiences, activities outside of the classroom, and pursuing your hobbies. I spent a month providing health care in the villages of Gros Morne and Miragoane two years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. During my time there, I screened children in schools and villages that hadn’t seen health care in years. Seeing the public health issues in a developing country first hand was a life changing experience; one that cannot be matched by merely reading or watching the news. The houses and buildings that once stood were mere piles of rubble on the side of the street. The children I saw suffered from a wide range of disease – everything from crush injuries to ringworm. Children roamed the streets with no shoes and no pants, and just a ripped shirt on their backs. We were able to see and treat close to 400 children a day suffering from common conditions: scabies, ringworm, and malnutrition, to name a few. During the day, I had the chance to interact with children patiently lined up in the clinic waiting to be screened. While I cleaned wounds or gave medication they would teach me Creole. I spent my days repeating “un grenn pa jou” as I provided the packet of medications they would take home with them. “Un grenn pa jou” At night I was welcomed...

How to Get Into Medical School If You’re White or Asian

Recently, we heard someone complain that “Asians don’t get into medical school anymore.” That’s quite a loaded statement, but it’s (somewhat) supported by statistics.   Asians definitely still get into medical school nowadays, but according to 2015 medical school admissions data, they do appear to be at a disadvantage.   The 10 Biggest Myths About Getting into Medical School     What Do These Statistics Show About Medical School? With average GPAs (3.40 to 3.59) and average MCAT scores (27 to 29), black applicants were almost 4 times more likely to be admitted to medical school than Asians in that applicant pool (81.2% vs. 20.6%), and 2.8 times more likely than white applicants (81.2% vs. 29.0%).   1) Likewise, Hispanic applicants with average GPAs and MCAT scores were more than twice as likely as whites in that pool to be admitted (59.5% vs. 29.0%), and nearly three times more likely than Asians (59.5% vs. 20.6%).   2) Overall, black (81.2%) and Hispanic (59.5%) applicants with average GPAs and average MCAT scores were accepted to US medical schools for the 2015-2016 academic year at rates (81.2% and 59.5% respectively) much higher than the 30.6% average acceptance rate for all students in that pool.   3) As the average GPAs and MCATs drop, the same trend continues, with acceptance rates for blacks and Hispanics being much higher than whites and Asians....

The Role of Social Support in Medicine

I sat attentively at the renal replacement meetings in South Africa where difficult decisions were made weekly. I quietly waited, pen and paper on my lap, as the social worker, dietician, nephrologists, nurses, residents, and fellows filed in to get a seat in the conference room.   Over the last five years, I have spent my postgraduate training exploring ways to increase access to and equity in organ transplantation. I, therefore, sat bewildered as I witnessed patients being denied access due to a lack of social support.   At this meeting, the transplant candidates were determined if they would end up on the waiting list. In this particular case, it was decided to deny a medically suitable patient a spot on dialysis. In South Africa, for patients without medical insurance, dialysis is an extremely limited resource. For patients to be accepted for dialysis, they are assessed both from a medical and social point of view. They need to be deemed good transplant candidates; be medically well, have good social support to ensure that they will come for their post-operative appointments, and adhere to the medicine regimen so as to not reject their newly transplanted kidney.   The medically suitable patient presented during the meeting was denied because they did not meet the social criteria. However unfortunate, this approach is employed to ensure that not only are patients given the...

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