Clinical Emotion Empathy General Humanistic Psychology Opinion

Let Me Be Brief: A Proposal to Refrain From Eating Our Young

A series of briefs by the Texas Medical Students

By: Elleana Majdinasab and Rishi Gonuguntla

Medicine has its unspoken mores, does it not? Certain specialties are notorious for their personalities, and the idea of foregoing food and sleep are deemed signs of strength and resilience. Upperclassmen advise against getting in Dr. X’s way, lest you become subject to a tailored diatribe, and you hear whispers of Dr. Y’s career-crushing evaluations. Your roommates do not bat an eye over your tears every  evening, because chances are they are no stranger to such days themselves. It doesn’t require a detective to identify that the above are the direct result of mistreatment in medical school.

Per the AAMC, mistreatment occurs when there is a show of disrespect for another person that unreasonably affects the learning process. Public humiliation and belittlement by doctors are the most common forms of mistreatment in medical school.1 The practice of aggressive “pimping,” or the act of doctors disparaging students for not knowing information, potentially in front of patients or fellow classmates, is a phenomenon too many medical students needlessly experience.2 Other examples of mistreatment include the shaming of students for asking questions and being subjected to offensive names and remarks.1 According to one 2014 study, over three-fourths of third year medical students reported being mistreated by residents, with over 10% of those responses citing recurrent mistreatment.2

Given the omnipresence of these events, one may consider whether there exists a common denominator among guilty attending physicians. Indeed, mistreatment of medical students can  occur secondary to a multitude of reasons. Physician burnout is still rampant as ever, and ironically, often occurs partly due to the same toxic culture attendings themselves experienced as budding residents.3 The doctors in question blissfully perpetuate the cycle, humiliating and pimping, justifying  their behavior with the mentality of, “I went through it back then and turned out just fine.” Thus, the vicious cycle continues. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

As medical students, we are quietly told by the older and wiser to improve our resilience – to grow tougher skin. We are advised to expect, or even welcome, microaggressions and impatience from our superiors while we work toward our lifelong dreams.4 We take deep breaths and smile through the jabs because we are fully aware of the consequences of speaking out against the deeply ingrained practice of mistreatment.4 Mistreatment in medical school matters because doctors eating their young further propagates the toxic reputation of the career’s culture while contributing to the development of many future doctors’ unhappiness.3 It is the accumulation of years of pressure, competition, and negative experiences that leads to feelings of burnout in students and physicians alike.5 Even worse, medical students act on these feelings, and they are three times more likely to commit suicide than their similar-aged peers in other educational settings in the general population.6 The hazing of medical students is in no way constructive or beneficial to anybody involved. Stress and toxicity in the learning environment prevents students from being themselves and asking questions, thus damaging their confidence during the formative years of their training.7

Even more alarming is that mistreatment is more commonly directed towards minority students, including female, underrepresented in medicine, Asian, multiracial, and LGBTQ+ students, than it is toward their white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, male counterparts.8 In the same vein that we encourage and recruit people   from minority communities to join medicine, we must be aware of the potential mistreatment they will experience and take clear, targeted steps to protect them. If we, as a community, fail at this task, then we are complicit in perpetuating the systemic inequities and inequalities that are currently prevalent in medicine.

The reality is that the culture of medicine doesn’t have to be this way. It is certain that mistreatment has been inadvertently ingrained within the culture of medical training, so attempting to address this problem feels daunting. There is a current lack of literature regarding what interventions successfully reduce mistreatment, but introspective analysis yields some steps we may take in an attempt to slowly chip away at the current social infrastructure.9

First and foremost, students must realize and acknowledge the negativity they have been subjected to is not ‘all in their head,’ but instead a universal and rather unfounded experience. The next step is to seek support from classmates, friendly administration, and trusted professors and physicians who can provide guidance and vouch for students’ justice. Addressing mistreatment is at its core a collaborative effort, as we cannot expect only the bravest, most outspoken students to carry this initiative to fruition. Each and every person in medicine can enjoy a role and responsibility in this endeavor. School administrations can create interventions aimed at educating faculty and students about recognizing mistreatment and the harmful effects that public humiliation can have on student learning.10 It is only when students recognize abuse and have a strong support system that they may finally gain the confidence required to be vocal against toxic behavior and speak out for both themselves and classmates. Schools can further assist efforts by ensuring students are aware of their rights in this context, and offering guaranteed protection if mistreatment does rear its head.11 Current physicians may also positively contribute by gently and constructively pointing out questionable behavior among their colleagues to create a more effective learning environment. Finally, our generation of medical students is tenacious, progressive, and outspoken. We can weaken, and even break the cycle, by remembering our roots, exercising our rights, and manifesting the golden rule: to always treat others the way you want to be treated.

  1. 2020 GQ All Schools pdf. (n.d.).
  2. Cook, F., Arora, V. M., Rasinski, K. A., Curlin, F. A., & Yoon, J. D. (2014). The Prevalence of Medical Student Mistreatment and Its Association with Burnout. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(5), 749–754.
  3. Major, (2014). To Bully and Be Bullied: Harassment and Mistreatment in Medical Education. AMA Journal of Ethics, 16(3), 155–160.
  4. Assessment of the Prevalence of Medical Student Mistreatment by Sex, Race/Ethnicity, and Sexual Orientation | Medical Education and Training | JAMA Internal Medicine | JAMA Network. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from y=5b371de5-4978-4643-b125-f26972348616&utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_content=tfl&utm_term=022420
  5. Dyrbye, N., Thomas, M. R., Massie, F. S., Power, D. V., Eacker, A., Harper, W., Durning, S., Moutier, C., Szydlo, D. W., Novotny, P. J., Sloan, J. A., & Shanafelt, T. D. (2008). Burnout and suicidal ideation among U.S. medical students. Annals of Internal Medicine, 149(5), 334–341.
  6. Markman, D., Soeprono, T. M., Combs, H. L., & Cosgrove, E. M. (2019). Medical student mistreatment: Understanding ‘public humiliation.’ Medical Education Online, 24(1), 1615367.
  7. Full article: Exploring medical students’ barriers to reporting mistreatment during clerkships: A qualitative study. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from
  8. Hasty, N., Br, M. E., ford, Lau, M. J. N., MD, & MHPE. (n.d.). It’s Time to Address Student Mistreatment. American College of Surgeons. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from mistreatment
  9. Markman, D., Soeprono, T. M., Combs, H. L., & Cosgrove, E. M. (2019). Medical student mistreatment: Understanding ‘public humiliation.’ Medical Education Online, 24(1), 1615367.
  10. Stone, J. P., Charette, J. H., McPhalen, D. F., & Temple-Oberle, C. (2015). Under the Knife: Medical Student Perceptions of Intimidation and Journal of Surgical Education, 72(4), 749–753.
  11. Mazer, M., Bereknyei Merrell, S., Hasty, B. N., Stave, C., & Lau, J. N. (2018). Assessment of Programs Aimed to Decrease or Prevent Mistreatment of Medical Trainees. JAMA Network Open, 1(3), e180870–e180870.


Clinical General Healthcare Costs Law Opinion Patient-Centered Care Primary Care Public Health Reflection

Discontinuity in Care

My resident tries fairly hard to take care of his patients. When he is with them, I catch him paying attention to all sorts of details that he could have easily let slip past. So it made it all the more difficult when I saw him enraged. When he opened up his list of clinic appointments one morning, on the list was a patient he did not want to see. It was not just that she was a new patient to him. It was not just that her problem list went on like a run-on sentence. It was that both were true, and my resident was still expected to see her in only 15 minutes.

While chart reviewing, he learned that the only consistency in this patient’s medical care at our clinic had been a history of inconsistent providers—and based on their notes, none of them had the complete story. “Why am I even seeing her?!” my resident asked rhetorically, as he frantically searched for answers he knew he did not have the time to find. I wondered, too. This visit seemed to benefit no one except the Billing Department, and even that would depend on whether the Medicare reimbursements actually made it through.

That patient’s experience was hardly unique, though. While rotating through various specialties as a medical student, I have met several patients who were passed from one provider to another. Maybe the provider had to switch services. Maybe they left the institution for better opportunities elsewhere. The reasons were myriad. Stories like those suggest that continuity of care may still only be a priority in primary care literature.

I think one reason for this reality is a lack of incentives to keep doctors and patients together. In any field, including medicine, we see money driving people’s attention and vice versa. Since our country has historically kept primary care on the back burner, there is little evidence to believe that practical incentives for continuity of care will spontaneously appear in the near future.

So, for the primary care fans out there, it might be worth it to start speaking up.


Photo credit: Norbert von der Groeben/Stanford School of Medicine, posted by National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences

Clinical Emotion Public Health

The Day I Took off my White Coat

The man in scrubs stands in the middle of the room. He has a blood-filled syringe in one hand and hand-written lab notes on the back of an envelope in another. He scans the room, looking for someone or something. I follow his gaze. A young man is curled up in a ball on the floor, rocking himself back and forth while groaning in pain (gangrenous wound on leg). A man is throwing all his weight on his wife and yelling in pain (renal colic). A woman is holding a piece of red, soaked gauze tightly on the hand of her screaming 7-year-old son (amputated finger). An older woman in a wheelchair is drooling from one side of her mouth and has a drooping shoulder (stroke). A young man, handcuffed to a police officer, has circular marks around his neck and blood dripping from his mouth (suicide attempt with hanging and ingesting barbed wire). A young woman sits limply in a wheelchair, eyes rolled back, and blood on her clothes between her legs (severe anemia – abortion days prior). In this room no bigger than my mother’s walk-in closet, the suffering is palpable and audible, but the man in scrubs does not find what he is looking for, and begins to walk out. Before he reaches the door, an unconscious man is carried in to the room (antifreeze ingestion). Without missing a step, he reaches over and gives the man a rough sternal rub to wake him up, to no avail. He exits the room.

The man in scrubs is the sole medical resident in charge of the stabilization and triage of incoming patients at this Emergency Department situated in a Low and Middle Income country. As a visiting medical student, I am wearing a white coat, and although I should fit in, my general ignorance about the majority of relevant things makes me feel like an imposter. I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be wearing this white coat.

‘You! You can help me!’ exclaims a woman in a wheelchair as she reaches towards me. Her face is covered, but somehow I know that she is in pain. Reluctantly, and with as much grace as a fish on land, I walk towards her. I walk towards her knowing that the only care I can provide is a hug, a tear, or a smile; the only prescription I can write is a kind word, and the only order I can put in is a prayer to the heavens.

I came to medical school to gain the skills that I need to better care for my neighbors, to share moments of humanity, of suffering and healing with my neighbors, to be meaningfully curious – to ask and answer questions that benefit my neighbors and our community, and to use medicine as a platform to implement meaningful social change. The irony is, I see none of that now; all I can do is stand defeated as I watch my neighbors suffer. I watch because I don’t have the money to cover the 15 pounds admission fee for every patient that is turned away at the door of the ED. I watch because I don’t know whether that comatose child who was just intubated is in trouble because his stomach is inflating instead of his lungs. I watch because I don’t know if that medical student just injured that woman’s radial nerve while trying to get an arterial blood sample.

With tears in my eyes, I fumble out of my white coat and head for the exit. I’m done watching, I tell myself. I’m done watching and I’m ready to learn. I’m ready to learn how to care for the suffering. I’m ready to be a part of the change I want to see in the world. As the door of the ED closed behind me, I managed to catch a final peek of the chaotic scene, as if to tell myself, ‘I will return when I’m ready.’

Looking back, I wish I had kept my white coat on, even if just to care with a tear, heal with a kind word, and pray for the well-being of my neighbors.

Photo Credit: Alex Proimos

Innovation Lecture

Drinking from a Fire Hydrant: Musings on Active Learning in Medical School

Almost everyone has seen a doctor at some point in their lives. Yet, for most, what actually goes on in medical school remains a mystery. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you have experienced the delightful experience that is medical school. Sleeping in late, eating well, and relaxing with friends and family on the weekend are just a few of the joys that we medical students get to experience. Just kidding. Medical school, as most of us know, is beyond challenging. At my school, faculty members fondly liken the medical school experience to drinking from a fire hydrant. As medical students, our pre-clinical days are comprised of hours and hours of lectures and power points. Then, when class is all over, we get to top off the day with several additional hours of studying. It’s challenging, it’s overwhelming, and at times, it seems downright impossible.

Part of what makes medical school such a unique challenge is the fact that medicine is a tactile discipline and yet, pre-clinical education is traditionally taught in a classroom setting. In response to this dichotomy, the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine recently made headlines by announcing that it would become the first public American medical school to completely eliminate lectures from its curriculum, joining private Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio ( This change, which is expected to be fully implemented by the year 2019, comes in response to concern that the traditional lecture format does not promote knowledge retention and instead relies on “passive” learning where the learner is not actively engaged in their education. To draw an analogy, passive learning is like being fed while active learning requires learners to pick up the fork to feed themselves.

Although the University of Vermont and Case Western Reserve University seem to be the only two institutions whose medical schools have committed to becoming completely lecture-free, it’s interesting to realize that other schools have moved towards a more active learning format as well. In my school, the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) , students pick their own small groups. These small student-led groups meet several times a month and work together to complete assignments and discuss scenarios that are based upon real clinical scenarios. Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine is one of several schools that employs a problem based learning curriculum, and in 2015, Harvard Medical School also restructured their curriculum to become more problem-based. Ultimately, medical school curriculums exist on a spectrum from passive to active curriculum styles and the continuum seems to be shifting to favor active learning styles at many medical institutions.

Moving away from a traditional lecture setting certainly presents its own unique challenges that affect learning. The non-lecture curriculum requires more self-reliance on the part of the students, who must teach themselves new material. The small groups used at COMP, for example, are completely student-led. A faculty member may pop in for a few minutes to make sure that the group is running smoothly, but often these faculty members are not experts in the subject matter at hand and are present to deal more with administrative issues than to teach content.  It also means that students are required to participate in groups, whereas many schools may have optional attendance for lectures. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the active learning curriculum, however, is the necessity for different personalities to work together to achieve a common goal. The traditional classroom setting involves one teacher who employs a specific style to reach multiple students. In the active learning curriculum, small groups are often used, in which each member has a different personality. Students in these groups must work together, sometimes despite personality differences, to master the curriculum and achieve common goals. Although the group setting closely resembles the team-based approach taken in most healthcare settings, it can undoubtedly be frustrating, especially for someone like myself who tends to be more introverted and likes to study on his/her own. In my personal experience, the members of my small group were incredibly supportive and had a variety of strengths, yet there were many days when I couldn’t wait to return to the comfort of my own room to be able to really learn the material myself. Sometimes trying to learn unfamiliar concepts with others was a distraction, and despite the best of intentions, small group was like the blind leading the blind when we were all confused on certain concepts. There were some times that the small group felt comforting, like someone holding my hand, and other times when it felt too overwhelming, like someone pressing my face up against that proverbial fire hydrant. Ultimately, I felt like the combination of both lectures and small groups was actually more dynamic than relying solely on one or the other. While the University of Vermont and Case Western Reserve University have both made the bold move to abstain from lectures altogether, they join the company of many medical schools, both allopathic and osteopathic, that have recognized the importance of active learning for the medical school curriculum. Let me know what alternatives your medical school offers to traditional lecture-style learning!

Emotion Empathy General Law

Gratitude: A Good Recipe for Holiday Cheer

The “most wonderful time of the year” is often filled with stark contrasts. While glitz and opulence surround us, sorrow and despair seem to grow emboldened. Nowhere is this truer than in a big city, where poverty and privilege so closely intermingle. Minutes after I walked down Fifth Avenue, basking in the glow of the Christmas lights infinitely multiplied in the facets of glittering diamonds displayed on shop windows, I found myself peering down into a simple metal container full of school supplies. This school-in-a-box, provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), was on display as part of an exhibit called “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter”. Insecurities represents one installation in the Citizens and Borders series organized by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The Citizens and Borders project aims to highlight experiences of migration, territory, and displacement[1]. Standing in front of this school-in-a-box, I thought of our medical school, replete with its high-tech anatomy lab, treadmill desks, and air conditioning system so powerful it sometimes forces us to use blankets in our lecture halls for warmth. I thought of my comfortable bed at home, and of the night table that stands next to it, teeming with books, and of the shelf above it filled with movies.

Once more, we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season, awash with bright lights and commercial cheer. This year’s winter holidays occur on the heels of an extremely draining presidential election season that left over fifty percent of Americans feeling stressed and anxious.[2] Already this month, I have seen patients who have related somatic complaints to the election, cooking, and spending time with their extended family To add insult to inury, the commercialism of the season which suggests we ought to see the world through the rosy hues of a colored ornament can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety in those who are already overwhelmed and not feeling their healthiest.. As a caregiver, I realize that it is important for us all to be especially sensitive this year to patients who may be feeling a bit less than the usual holiday cheer.

Peering down into the school-in-a-box reminded me of how grateful I am for the many privileges in my life. Some of these privileges, like a loving and supportive family, or being born in a country with free speech and democratic elections, are pure happenstance. Others I have worked hard for, like the privilege of attending medical school and caring for patients. It is important, now more than ever, that we have gratitude for our privileges in life, and help our patients extend an outlook of gratitude in their own life.

Gratitude has11522685876_5d27ebdb25_o consistently been shown to have a positive impact on mental health. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, asked study participants to write letters of gratitude to people in their lives whose important contributions had previously gone unacknowledged. He then quantified the impact of these letters on the study participants’ letter writers by providing them with a happiness score. Unsurprisingly, the mere act of writing the letter and expressing gratitude was found to boost each participant’s happiness score.[3] As physicians, we ought to support many outlets for creative expression, from yoga to painting, as ways to contribute to our patients’ well being, but we also need to consider gratitude as its own kind of healing salve. Whether we encourage our patients to write expressions of gratitude to special people in their lives, or just to reflect on the small blessings in their everyday lives, gratitude should have a place in our roster of medical advice. We cannot and should not strive to take away the things in our patients’ lives that cause them discomfort, anxiety, and sorrow, whether they be personal events or national political outcomes. Good medicine is not about making the world a more comfortable place, but rather, making our patients more comfortable within the world.





Photo credit: Timo Gufler


Properly Unprepared

It was late afternoon, and the current nursing shift would be relieved in less than ninety minutes. The feeling of impending Friday freedom was palpable on the floor of the intensive care unit. I was on my way to meet with my last patient of the week, who had been brought in for an unintentional drug overdose. My goal was to determine whether the overdose was truly accidental, and if she was a candidate for compulsory psychiatric hospitalization. I passed by a large bank of computers without stopping, and knocked on the patient’s door. When I walked in that room, all I knew was the patient’s name, her age, and the reason for her hospitalization. Other than those preliminary facts, she was a complete mystery to me. I spent fifty minutes with the patient, and had a relatively pleasant conversation. When I walked out of her room, I opened her medical chart for the first time.

Unfortunately, that day, the story that I received from the patient and the information that I got from her chart told two different stories. Numerous providers had noted that she was irresponsible with medications, and I got the sense from the chart that she only sought medical care to gain access to controlled substances. Now that I had established a good relationship with my patient, I would have to re-interview her in an attempt to reconcile the information I had seen in her chart with the picture she had painted for me in the moments prior. My Friday freedom would just have to wait.

I would not be surprised to find out that the ICU staff was laughing at me that day. After all, I ended up spending more than two hours with this patient when I could have conducted only one brief interview. Even though the majority of my first hour with the patient was pure confabulation, I viewed it as a valuable component of my assessment. That first hour represented my sole opportunity to get to know my patient without any bias. Had I looked at her chart before walking into the room, I unquestionably would have written her off as an irresponsible, drug-seeking troublemaker. I would have asked her pointed, perhaps accusatory questions about her behaviors, and worse, I would have known exactly when she was lying to me, further eroding any respect I may have had for this patient.

Electronic medical record systems help to facilitate the sequestration of large amounts of information about our patients with minimal effort, and it’s largely considered taboo to meet with patients without first researching their medical record.  The information physicians can learn from the medical record can be undoubtedly beneficial in many situations, but extensive chart reviews can also lure us into a false sense of security, allowing us to preconceive an identity for our patients before ever having met them.

Had I read my patient’s chart that afternoon, I am certain that I would have made judgments about her that would have influenced my interview. Instead, I learned about my patient by allowing her to tell her own story. I thought about the information she shared with me, and, perhaps more importantly, what she failed to tell me. Because the patient never discussed her well-documented mishandling and possible dependence on prescription medications, I felt confident in making an assessment that this patient had relatively poor insight about her problems.

Featured image:
hGraph: patient + clinician looking together by Juhan Sonin

Clinical General Opinion Reflection

One Size Does Not Fit All

I recall being fresh out of my first year of medical school and ecstatic to be spending my break not in a class room, but at an actual pediatric oncology unit. The night prior to my first day in clinic, I spent time reviewing immunology and looking ahead at the oncology lectures from the Clinical Medicine class I would take the next year in school. I wanted to be prepared in front of my new mentor.

The next morning, I hardly had time to impress my preceptor let alone introduce myself before we were running around. We stopped at the pathology lab. I gazed through the microscope, trying to remember what I had read the night before about identifying abnormal cells.

“I have a new patient that arrived today. She is very sick. We have to tell the family the definitive diagnosis. Come with me.”

We urgently walked up to the inpatient floor into one of the rooms. A beautiful young girl was sleeping in the bed. Her parents and grandma were diligently by her side. They froze and looked at the doctor. This was the final confirmation they had been waiting for. They held onto the hope that they had been sent to the oncology floor by mistake.

“We have confirmed that your child has a rare cancer.”

4729016997_bc4ec39867_bI watched as any sliver of hope vanished from their eyes. They would not wake up from this nightmare. The moment my mentor delivered the diagnosis, I could feel the world take a 180 eighty degree turn for this family. It was as if their world froze at that moment. How could this be? The child looked so peaceful, fast asleep while hospital monitors blinked around her. Just a week ago, they were running around to sports practices and dentist appointments and going through the everyday motions that we consider to make up a normal life. I’m not even sure that this family was breathing at this moment. The room became deafening silent as all the color drained from their faces. The doctor proceeded to talk about what would happen in the days to come. What did this mean for their child?

Just when the family (and I) didn’t think it could get worse, they were told about the side effects of the medications – the only option to treat their child’s condition. The doctor began with the common side effects like nausea, vomiting, hair loss. Next, cardiomyopathies. Neuropathy. Loss of reproductive function. This is when this family broke. Loss of reproductive function. I always thought the diagnosis would be the hardest thing to hear. For them, the breaking point was learning of the adverse effects of the very medications intended to save the child’s life. These medications are meant to represent hope, protection, and reassurance for a life beyond disease. The doctor paused again, giving this family time to just cry. Tissues went around.

“This is hard. Take your time. I am here for you throughout this entire journey.”

I watched the mother of this little girl look at her own mother. It was a look of despair, yearning for answers that wouldn’t come. Even if her child survives, bits of the future have already been stolen. We left the room after two hours to let the family have time to process.

Outside of the room, I tried to process what I had experienced. The information I read in my textbooks and PowerPoints did not prepare me for that interaction. I looked at my preceptor for guidance.

“This is real. This is hard. We will fight with them, though. We do everything in our power not only to treat the cancer, but to make sure that cancer does not define their life. This is what we do.”

Throughout the rest of my summer, I went on a roller coaster from new diagnoses to the “completion of chemo party”, from being declared cured after a 5-year visit with no evidence of disease to the tragic death of a child. I watched children balancing school with chemo. I watched teenagers struggle with fear and bravery while grasping at any chance to maintain their independence. I watched parents struggle to care for a sick child while still being present for the other children they left at home. The things I learned that summer could not have been taught in a classroom. With every family I met from all over the world, I witnessed raw and vibrant emotions: fear, determination, sadness, and never ending hope, even in the wake of death. It is this hope that I take with me. It is contagious. These are the emotions that makes us human.

At one point during the summer, I asked my mentor what the secret was to enduring such difficult clinical conditions. I had watched him interact with all of his patients each day. Every single one loved him. The mother of that little girl later told me how he was able to comfort them, cry with them, joke with them, and laugh with them with such ease. He was able to guide them through this journey, with the help of hospital resources, to give them a life within this new normal. In response, he said:

“There is no such thing as being the best doctor in the world. You have to be the best doctor in the world for the patient sitting in front of you. That is my first priority, more than my research or my teaching. Get to know you patients and their families. Learn from their stories. Keep fighting to improve. That is how you become the best.”

3377110664_c71de81ebc_zSo much of early medical education involves pouring over books and PowerPoints, trying to memorize as many details as possible. It is important to have that foundation of knowledge, but what I have come to realize is that there are rarely pure “textbook cases” because so much more goes into caring for a patient. One size does not fit all in medicine. This experience brought back the humanity of medicine. I witnessed how knowing and understanding patients enables a physician to be an advocate for their patients, a role I consider to be the most important of the many roles a physician takes. I can never come close to knowing exactly what these families are going through. I also can’t thank them enough for allowing me to be present during their most vulnerable moments, for taking time to talk with me for a brief period to get a glimpse of their journey. Ultimately, this experience was a reminder that the art of medicine can’t be discovered in textbooks. It is learned from our patients and the uniqueness that their individual journeys bring to each patient encounter.


Featured Image

Lou Bueno
Alice Popkorn

Law Opinion

Medicolegal Issues: Physician Involvement in Litigation

The medical and legal landscapes are intertwined much more so than ever before. With the advent of this close relationship between the medical and legal fields, physicians have become involved in a multitude of legal proceedings. Physician involvement ranges from consultation on legal matters to testifying in open court to contesting malpractice lawsuits. In part 2 of our review of medicolegal issues, we are going to look at a few different types of legal cases that physicians are involved in, and what their roles are in those proceedings.

Social Security or Supplemental Security Disability Hearings

One of the major case types in which physicians are involved is for determination of an individual’s eligibility for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income Disability. Both of these programs provide financial assistance for those with disabilities. Social Security Income Disability pays benefits to people who are “insured”, meaning those who have worked for a certain number of years and have paid Social Security taxes. Supplemental Security Income does not have those restrictions, and pays benefits based on the financial requirements of the applicant.

Cases involving income disability center around a hearing, where citizens can appeal decisions made by the Social Security Administration (SSA) involving eligibility or specific monetary payouts. In these types of cases, physicians often testify for both the claimant and SSA. When physicians testify for the claimant, their purpose is usually to summarize key information about the claimant’s medical history and to provide the judge with evidence justifying the awarding of income disability. When physicians testify for the SSA, the purpose of their testimony remains to summarize key information about the claimant’s medical history. However, physicians are often called by the SSA to help support SSA decisions and prevent the case from being remanded or appealed again. Irrespective of which party the physician testifies for, they are also exposed to questioning by the other side involved in the hearing.

Criminal Trials

Another key case type that physicians testify in, and probably the one most notable to the public, is criminal trials. In criminal trials there are two notable roles that physicians may play.   Physicians in the field of forensic pathology fill the first notable role. Forensic pathology is a sub-specialty of pathology and requires an additional year of fellowship training after completion of a pathology residency program. The role of forensic pathologists is multiple, with their primary objective being to analyze biological evidence. This analysis can include such things as performing autopsies on postmortem specimens to determine cause of death, examining wounds for possible etiology, inspecting histological slides to identify a disease process, or interpreting toxicology screens to determine drug exposure or impairment. Forensic pathologists are often called upon as expert witnesses to provide their testimony in open court, and they are subject to questioning by both parties involved in a case.

Forensic psychiatrists fill the second notable role for physicians in criminal trials. Forensic psychiatry is a sub-specialty of psychiatry, with an additional year of fellowship training after completing a psychiatry residency program. The responsibilities of a forensic psychiatrist include determining a person’s ability to stand trial in the context of mental competence. Further responsibilities include giving an opinion to the court about the mental state of a person during the commission of a crime. If a forensic psychiatrist determines that the party in question has some mental defect or illness, the party may be found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The validity of these judgments are controversial, as many are suspicious of attorneys using “insanity defenses” when they are not typically warranted. Like forensic pathologists, forensic psychiatrists are subject to questioning by both parties involved in any legal case in which they testify.

Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice is defined as professional negligence by a health care provider where the treatment provided falls below, or deviates from, accepted standards of care. The specific course of action taken by the health care provider results in injury or death of the patient. In these types of cases physicians are the defendants, and they often employ legal advisors to aid in their defense. In order to further protect themselves from malpractice suits, physicians and hospital systems spend significant sums of money on malpractice insurance.

The statistics behind medical malpractice are both interesting and striking. In 2012, malpractice payouts totaled $3.6 billion from 12,142 claims. Cases involving death (31%) and significant permanent injuries (19%) encompassed 50% of all payouts. 5 states (New York, Pennsylvania, California, New Jersey, and Florida) had total payouts exceeding $200 million. The significant monetary burden of malpractice claims has created a controversy surrounding tort reform. Malpractice tort reform will be the topic of the next installment of the series, so stay tuned!




Featured image:
Cast Aluminium Nurse with Stethoscope (Ne Kensington, PA) by takomabibelot 

Clinical General Lifestyle MSPress Announcements Reflection

Medical Commencement Archive Debut with Dr. Timothy E. Quill, University of Rochester School of Medicine

Today the Medical Student Press kicks off Volume 1 of the Medical Commencement Archive. The Archive will now release a new speech each Friday. Stay tuned for spectacular reads which speak directly to the future of medicine with wise reflections from the past. The inaugural speech entitled, Who is Your Doctor?, comes from Dr. Timothy E. Quill, M.D., at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Read Dr. Quill’s full speech and bookmark the Medical Commencement Archive here.

dr quill copy 2Dr. Quill is an accomplished physician and author in the field of Palliative Care. He earned his undergraduate degree at Amherst College, and received his M.D. at the University of Rochester. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine and a Fellowship in Medicine/Psychiatry Liaison at the University of Rochester. Dr.Quill is now Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry, and Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is also the Director of the URMC Palliative Care Program. Dr. Quill has published extensively on the doctor-patient relationship, with an emphasis on the difficult decision-making processes toward the end of life. He was the lead physician plaintiff in the 1997 Supreme Court case Quill v. Vacco challenging the law prohibiting physician-assisted death.

In his speech, Dr. Quill spoke to the class about the need for competent and personal medical care in this complex and fast-paced world of biomedicine with all its specialties and subspecialties. He drew upon his extensive clinical experience in palliative care to illustrate how a deep understanding of the patient and their family can help physicians not only guide patients through the plethora of medical options, but also make,

“…clear recommendations among those options based on their medical knowledge and their knowledge of the patient as a person.” Dr. Quill believes, “that kind of guidance and engagement, which is both medically competent but also very person, is what will make [one] a really exemplary doctor.”

Dr. Quill’s speech is indeed very touching and inspirational. His personal clinical anecdotes are moving, as  they illustrate how competent and personal medicine improves patient care. His focus and dedication to understanding and treating patients as opposed to diseases is evident and serves as a role model to all, including medical students. His words inspire medical student to,

“become one of those doctors who is not only technically very competent, but also very willing to engage with patients and families in difficult decision-making.

The MSPress encourages you to read his commencement speech to not only gain insight into Dr. Quill’s wisdom, filled with powerful anecdotes, but to learn from an accomplished and very thoughtful physician. Read Dr. Quill’s full speech and bookmark the Medical Commencement Archive here.

Thanks to Stephen Kwak, MSPress Editor, for his contribution to this blog post.