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...

Learning a Foreign Language in a Foreign Land

At our pre-departure Fulbright orientation, we had a stimulating lecture on ‘your identity abroad’. I was fascinated by the conversation that ensued but did not realize that it would apply to me directly. The racial categories South Africa were different than any other country I had experienced before. According to the 2011 Census, South Africans were categorized as ‘Black African’ at 80.2%, ‘White’ at 8.4%, ‘Coloured’ (multiracial) at 8.8%, ‘Indian’ at 2.5%, and ‘Other’ at 0.5%. When people saw me, they quickly categorized me as ‘Coloured’. When they heard me speak, my accent made it was clear that I was a foreigner. And when I finally told them I was Indian, they didn’t believe me. Before last year, I never thought that critically about my ethnicity, my identity, and what it meant to me until it was challenged. It wasn’t until others began to categorize me into groups, that I realized identifying as Indian American woman was essential to who I am and what I stand for. To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection. “To me, Cape Agulhas, the point at which the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, isn’t just a location, it is a reflection.”   My decision to take a beginners’ Xhosa class at the University of Cape Town in my...

Disease Diagnosis Via Breathalyzers?

By Janet Taylor A new instrument has recently been developed to diagnose disease in a non-invasive, cost effective manner. Based on the idea of the breathalyzers used to identify and quantify alcohol consumption, this device would allow for specific programmable disease detection in still healthy individuals. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are expressed by the body when pathologic processes occur.   By linking the exhalation of these chemicals to specific diseases, physicians will be able to diagnose disease in the early stages based on both presence and quantities exhaled and possibly identify individuals who are at high risk for development of specific diseases.   Figure 1. Schematic representation of the concept and design of the study. It involved collection of breath samples from 1404 subjects in 14 departments in nine clinical centers in five different countries (Israel, France, USA, Latvia, and China). The population included 591 healthy controls and 813 patients diagnosed with one of 17 different diseases: lung cancer, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, gastric cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, idiopathic Parkinson’s, atypical Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and chronic kidney disease. One breath sample obtained from each subject was analyzed with the artificially intelligent nanoarray for disease diagnosis and classification, and a second was analyzed with GC-MS for exploring its chemical composition....

How Can I Be Successful On My Surgery Rotation?

Surgery is one of the most unique specialties. I remember an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande, one of the most influential surgeons of our time, where he said that surgery was very much like politics. There are characters with different personalities, running things their own way while trying to influence the world around them. After having spent the past two weeks on my surgery clerkship (with four more to go), I couldn’t agree more. But what really does it take for a lowly medical student (like myself) on his or her first time on surgery to be successful? Well, it starts by knowing a few basic facts.   1. Efficiency is key While this is very difficult to achieve when you are overwhelmed with 30 patients on your service on the first day you join the team, efficiency is something that surgeons value very much. There’s no time to sit down and talk eloquently about a patient’s I’s and O’s, their creatinine trend, or the differential diagnosis of low hemoglobin. You give them some fluids or blood and move on.   2. Don’t feel bad if you feel unnoticed Surgeons are perceptive people. Even though it may feel like you are being ignored as the third year medical student, your residents and attendings easily pick up on your competence (or otherwise). This may be during morning rounds when you...