Thursday, December 13, 2007

My friends know cool stuff: Brad Herrin

Brad Herrin probably likes medical school more than anybody. Most future MD's complain about it, but Brad just loves it. I've never met anymore more enthusiastic about learning science. Brad was my roommate senior year, and Jeff and I would often argue such crucually important topics such as "who has a bigger impact on saving lives, doctors or economists?" Now he's at U Washington med school, one of the top in the country.

You once said you get into arguments with yourself as to which organ
is the most important in the human which is it?

In terms of functional significance to your survival, it's difficult
to make a case against the brain. No other organ or organ system
approaches it in terms of sheer complexity. You've got 100 billion
(yes, billion) neurons in your brain, each with up to 10,000 different
connections, and they work in unison, constantly receiving all kinds
of sensory information, processing it, and organizing an appropriate
response, most of which is done without you even thinking about it.

The heart makes a pretty compelling case as well. It's a mechanical
masterpiece. It provides a continuous supply of nutrient-rich blood
to every cell in your body by beating 100,000 times over the course of
a single day. That means the average person's heart will beat over
2.5 billion times and pump the equivalent of 50 million gallons by the
time they turn 70. Pretty tough specs for a pump that's the size of
your fist and weighs less than a pound. Oh yeah, it beats by itself
too. (The brain just acts to regulate heart rate up or down.)

However, my current personal favorite is probably the eye. The fact
that a single photon of light can be detected by photoreceptor cells
in your eye, and then is converted into information that will
ultimately be a visual image boggles me. And then you add in all of
the colors. (I recently read that you can distinguish 500 shades of
gray alone.) I concede that the eye is not the most important organ
(plenty of people lead amazing lives without them), but I'm thoroughly
fascinated by its capabilities.

One of my econ tests once asked why if a med school student drops his
pencil during a test the student next to him kicks it five rows down.
How competitive is med school?

Competition in medical school varies widely. There is certainly an
echelon of schools that have a reputation for being pretty cut-throat.
However, you have competitive people in every school. The issue at
hand is why some schools tend to attract more competitive people than
others. I somehow can't quite picture someone desperate enough to
kick someone else's pencil during a test is, but maybe that's
something they don't screen for at some schools during the interview

An increasing trend among schools in recent years has been to address
this issue by instituting varying degrees of pass-fail grading
systems, the idea being that by taking away "grades" they are creating
an environment that better fosters the development collaboration and
teamwork. However, most schools dilute the system by using grading
schemes that utilize a spectrum of passing that includes "pass with
honors," "high pass," and "pass." (Suspiciously similar to letter
grades, or mere coincidence?)

I can only fairly assess the level of competition in my class, and
I've been pleasantly surprised by the general lack of competition.
We've definitely got a few gunners, but as a whole, my class is super
cooperative. You wouldn't believe the multitude of study guides and
class notes flying around the week before an exam. It will be
interesting to see if this changes over time.

Note: For those of you unfamiliar/uncomfortable with the idea of
medical school being pass/fail, rest assured, schools aren't pumping
out doctors who only know 70% of the material. For one, everyone
still has to pass the various board/licensing exams. And secondly,
just as an example: On our recent Anatomy final, of 180 students,
well over half scored 90 percent or better, and 23 students
accumulated over 98 percent of the total points of the course. Not
too many people just skating by to pass…

Which of the med school dramas do more students in med school watch?
What do they think?

"House" is a clear favorite, mostly because the main character is so
horribly inappropriate, stunningly brilliant, and the antithesis of
the type of doctor most people are striving to become all at the same
time. We've definitely had professors bring up the show on more than
one occasion as an example of how not to do something. (Apparently
"House" is popular among faculty as well, but not for the exhibited
bedside manners.) "Scrubs" has quite a few fans and "Grey's Anatomy"
is popular with the girls.

If a doctor wants to take 2 years off from his private practice to
contribute to society in some way, what would be the best use of the

Things to do:
1.) Health policy and/or advocacy – Doctors should be the strongest
and most vocal advocates for those in need of healthcare.
2.) Research efforts targeting neglected diseases and drug development
– ED and a competitor for Viagra don't count.
3.) Fundraise for a research foundation/health-oriented non-profit –
People love to hear doctors speak.
4.) Work in a free-health care clinic and don't go back to your
private practice.

How has your view of medicine been altered by your experience in Africa?

Completely. When I think about the many months I was fortunate to
have lived and worked in Tanzania, the smooth chatter of Swahili and
the spectacular views of Kilimanjaro are always in stark contrast to
shock and bitter frustration I experienced in my interactions with the
healthcare system, both at the injustice of the situation and at my
inability (then) to alleviate it.

My experiences convinced me that: 1.) health care should be available
and accessible for all, 2.) doctors should be advocates for the poor
and the marginalized, and 3.) as a doctor, I have an obligation to do
more for others since I was blessed enough to be given more (in terms
of privileges and opportunities growing up in the States).


Blogger Vanessa said...

Miss you, Bradley. I'm glad you're so happy with Med school.

8:35 AM  

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