This is a column about medicine, but it doesn’t start in a hospital. Instead it starts in a classroom filled to the brim with eager medical students awaiting the words of a prominent physician. The physician is not of this world. He is, in fact, imaginary—the creation of a real-world physician Abraham Verghese, who practices and teaches at Stanford. Verghese is known to the American public as the author of the bestsellers “My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story” and “Cutting for Stone,” and to the medical community as an incredibly effective, albeit unorthodox, physician. You can watch one of his lectures on TED.com, where he argues that medicine is bound to discover a new and revolutionary tool—the human hand. His fictitious physician—the prominent Dr. Thomas Stone, namesake for his most recent best seller—tries to make a similar point to his packed class of medical students. He asks, “What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” No one seems to know; there aren’t many drugs administered by ear. And then, finally, someone speaks up with the sought-after answer: “words of comfort.”
We start with this story about a story because it is an unorthodox way of introducing this column—a series of authors with unorthodox experiences in medicine. We all want to be doctors, but we have very different views of what medicine is and can be. Medicine is a truly vast field and can be experienced and pursued in many ways, and it has lessons for all of us. Whether you are a student, nurse, physician or even someone with interests completely outside the field of medicine, there will be something for you in this column. As authors, we want to tell stories from our time as pre-med undergrads at Duke that can encourage and inform our peers. We also want to use these stories to enliven the many scientific, ethical, political, economic, social and policy discussions that take place in our community and others. We will write about healthcare in America and whether or not it should be universal. We will look to other parts of the world to see if they can offer lessons. And we will reflect on those life-changing moments in clinics and labs that challenge, sustain and ultimately redeem our interests in and commitment to medicine. But before we get there, we would like to share our own, brief stories.
Paul Horak is a Duke senior and economics major, who for the past two years has worked as a research assistant for Harvard economist David Cutler at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research has focused on the relationship between health and employment, with particular emphasis on how public programs—like Social Security Disability Insurance—might mediate labor force transitions. Paul did not grow up wanting to be a doctor, but now aspires to be a practicing physician and researcher. His columns will focus on the most compelling economic and humanistic challenges in medicine.
Jay Srinivasan is a Trinity junior and mathematics major, who has been actively involved in emergency medical services (EMS) since April 2009. Currently serving as an officer of Duke’s student-run campus EMS agency, he has also spent the past year working part-time with Durham County EMS and obtaining a paramedic certification. These various positions and years of experience with field medicine have afforded him a perspective on the American healthcare system derived from encounters with patients from all walks of life. Jay’s columns will focus on the greater lessons we can take away from working with the patients in our own backyard.
Sanjay Kishore is an aspiring physician who has slowly come to realize that the answers to the most pressing health challenges of tomorrow may not be found in a test tube. Though he entered Duke with dreams of being a geneticist, he’s become a Program II major focused on the social determinants of health, and has had the opportunity to explore the upstream drivers of health inequity, ranging from ethnic conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa to the lack of health insurance in Durham. His columns will try to capture the essence of a personal—but not unique—journey toward the pursuit of “social medicine,” coming to terms with the disparities that exist, the idealism that inspires and the doubt that follows an aspiring doctor.
Georgia McLendon is a Duke junior, majoring in biology with a focus in anatomy and physiology. She has worked as a student researcher under Dr. Stephen Nowicki for two years, examining the relationship between avian brain size, song complexity and mate choice. In this column, Georgia will provide an undergraduate perspective on research methodologies as they relate to thinking critically as a physician. In addition, she will discuss topics in medical ethics, such as the nature of well-being and decision-making for those who can’t make decisions for themselves.
The views and opinions expressed in our columns do not reflect the views or opinions of any organization with which we are affiliated.
Paul Horak, Trinity ’13, Jay Srinivasan, Trinity ’14, Sanjay Kishore, Trinity ’13, and Georgia McLendon, Trinity ’14, are Duke pre-meds. This column is the first installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written on the pre-med experience at Duke, as well as the diverse ways students can pursue and engage with the field of medicine.