Monthly Archive for June, 2006

as the (lab) world turns (episode 1)

Unsuspecting Super Bored Grad Student sits in her office surfing the internet as she does everyday. Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor comes by with the latest piece of juicy departmental gossip that she really could care less about. She has no choice but to indulge him.

Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: Dr. Chair of the Department is reassigning Dr. Next Door’s unauthorized lab bench to Dr. Needs a Bench.
Super Bored Grad Student [without taking her eyes off of her laptop screen]: Uh-huh.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: Dr. Next Door isn’t going to be happy about it. I’m in trouble.
Super Bored Grad Student: Well, it wasn’t his bench to begin with.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: Dr. Next Door doesn’t see it that way.
Super Bored Grad Student: Yeeep.

Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor then walks into his office and plops back into his chair to surf ESPN. Super Bored Grad Student resumes her endless surfing. She has reached the end of the internet at least 100 times already. All of a sudden, Dr. Next Door huffily opens his office door to step out and stands in the doorway of Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor’s office. Super Bored Grad Student knows that trouble is sure to ensue. But Super Bored Grad Student can’t escape without possibly also incurring the wrath of Dr. Next Door and Super Bored Grad Student definitely knows better. Super Bored Grad Student considers hiding under her desk as the fireworks begin.

Dr. Next Door: I needed that bench. Where am I supposed to store my stuff now?
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: There is never enough space.
Dr. Next Door: Well, you and Dr. Down the Hall have plenty of space. How come they didn’t take space from you or Dr. Down the Hall? All you do is look out for yourself and Dr. Down the Hall.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: I don’t have enough space either. My space is not all mine. The residents and fellows use that space too. And Dr. Needs a Bench has no space and he has grants that he hasn’t been able to work on because he has no space.
Dr. Next Door: I have grants too. I need that space. I have a lot of people coming in for the summer and I don’t have enough space.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: Well, everybody needs space.
Dr. Next Door: There is so much wasted space. You have whole rooms to yourself with only one person in them.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: That is not true.
Dr. Next Door: Well, I would have liked to have been consulted. It was a unilateral decision.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: It wasn’t my decision. I’m just the messenger. You should take this up with Dr. Chair of the Department.
Dr. Next Door [mumbles under his breath as he retreats back into his office]: Everyone looks out for themselves and the junior faculty just get screwed.

Super Bored Grad Student breathes a sigh of relief and resumes her surfing. She is swiftly interrupted by Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor, who needs to assert his rightness in the whole thing to as many people as he possibly can.

Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: He went ballistic.
Super Bored Grad Student: Yep. He did.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: That was not the way to go about it.
Super Bored Grad Student: Nope. It wasn’t. Especially since that bench was not even assigned to him to begin with. He just took it.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: It’s the same with Dr. Also Needs a Bench. She knows that at any time, her bench can be recalled. And the nerve to say that I should give up some of my space.
Super Bored Grad Student: Yeeep. He can’t expect to get the same treatment as you since you are so much higher rank than him.
Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor: Yeah. He can complain when he has over blah-de-blah abstracts and blah-de-blah papers and bring in blah-de-blah million dollars in grants to the department.
Super Bored Grad Student: Yeeep.

Dr. Grumpy Old Major Professor walks off to enjoy his moment in the spotlight as the victim. Super Bored Grad Student then pauses from her web surfing for a minute to reflect on how immature some highly educated adults can be. She then resumed her surfing for the rest of the day.

As the (Lab) World Turns. Watch as drama prevails over science. Tune in next time.

inspirational music for the graduate student 1.2

It’s time for our second installment of inspirational music for the grad student. This week, in honor of all the drama that has been going on in the lab (see tomorrow’s post), I’ve chosen a song about being stuck in a vicious cycle: Lifehouse – Sick Cycle Carousel. I think that one of the biggest shockers I’ve found from being in the lab is just how much politics is involved in being a scientist and how immature successful adults can be. I can only hope that what I’m seeing is the exception and not the rule. And that I don’t eventually turn out to be like them.

As always, feel free to submit suggestions for future inspirational music posts through the contact form.

yet another reason…

Why I don’t understand why everyone and their mom is a premed. Physician salaries decreased by 7% between 1995 and 2003, with primary care physicians being the hardest hit with a whopping 10% decrease in salary. In the meantime, the salaries of lawyers and other professionals rose by 7%. It’s true that doctors make a lot of money anyway and that we shouldn’t complain, but the average graduating med student has upwards of $100,000 in debt, which makes it hard for us to stomach the fact that we worked so hard and will continue working so hard for less money than our predecessors and our professional peers in such a high cost world. I have met my fair share of classmates who refused to go anywhere near primary care because of its “poor” pay. I used to turn my nose up at these classmates because money was never a concern of mine in choosing my career. I just wanted to do what would make me happy. Now if that turns out to be primary care (which thankfully, it isn’t), then so be it. But of course, I’m spoiled by the fact that I won’t be $100,000 in debt when I graduate.

As my thinking has evolved, I’ve come to see that my classmates’ money concerns are indeed valid (though I still don’t think that salary should be the number one deciding factor when it comes to choosing a specialty). We spend four years of our lives toiling away to get our MD, accumulating a mountain of debt while we’re at it. Then we spend 3-7 years in hell residency being paid a paltry sum for being worked to death. Finally, after all of that, we’re finally able to start making real money. By that time, how old are we? How far behind are we compared to our lawyer and other professional friends? We want to buy houses too. Have kids. Maybe buy a new car since that one we’ve been driving since the beginning of college is starting to fall apart. These things all cost money. Money that we don’t have, even though we appear to “make a lot of money.” On top of that, I think that primary care physicians work very hard and deal with more than their fair share of difficult patients. I can’t imagine dealing with patients like my mother-in-law and her “I had surgery on my ankle, now I think I’m going to die from a heart attack and I can’t breathe,” “there’s blood in my stool, scope me NOW even though there are plenty of other patients who need a colonoscopy more urgently than I do” and “doctors give me substandard care because I’m poor and I don’t speak English” antics. I know that difficult patients exist in every specialty, but I think (and I may very well be wrong) that there are far more in primary care because of the primary care physician’s role as a gatekeeper. If anything, primary care physicians should be paid more because of their indispensable role. But in real life, primary care physicians are not paid as much as specialists because of the lack of procedures in primary care. I get it—procedures are expensive. But should specialties that aren’t so procedure-based not be compensated as well as those that are? I have to admit that this reality has made me think twice about neurology because of its relative lack of procedures. It’s a good thing that my love for the brain and the art of diagnosis wins out (at least for now) or else I’d be considering something else. How many med students think that same thing and choose money? Some say that this is not and will not be the case, but I’ve already seen some classmates choose their specialties based on that very thinking. Will there be more in the coming years? Who knows. I’ve met physicians who are well into their careers and still have a whole lot of med school debt left even though they probably came out with half the debt of the modern med school graduate. They’ve hinted at regretting their career choice. There are (costly) seminars on “careers to consider when you don’t want to be a doctor anymore.” These kind of things almost make me think twice about what I’ve chosen to do, but only for a split second because I know that there’s really nothing else that I’d rather be doing. I know that I would still do this even if the salary were half what it is now. But you young premeds out there should think really, really, really hard about whether it’s really worth it. Depending on your goals and motivations, it just might not be.

when medical students practice drawing blood on each other…

Things are bound to go wrong. All I could hope for was that they would not go wrong when I was the guinea pig (but I sure did feel sorry for whoever my victim would be since I had very limited experience). So when it came time to pair up for this painful exercise (did I mention that I’m extremely squeamish when it comes to blood, especially my own?), I tried to pair up with a classmate who was well-versed in this skill (i.e., one who was very active in the free clinics). Well, I guess that was everyone else’s idea as well. I ended up with the oldest member in our class—I told myself that she would at least be super careful since she was so much older and wiser than me. Well, I went first. She turned out to be squeamish about blood draws too, which just made me all the more nervous. But I’m proud to say that it went off without a hitch. Yay! Pat on the back for me!

So then came my turn to be the victim. She was more nervous about it than I would have liked. Do you mean that you have really never drawn blood before?! I think I’m in trouble now. She eventually got to actually sticking the needle in, which I of course, could not and did not watch. So there’s the prick. Owie. Don’t be a wimp. Seems like everything’s going okay. I think I can look now. So I take a peek, expecting to see a needle sticking out of my arm with blood flowing neatly into the Vacutainer tube only to find that there’s blood everywhere! I still don’t really know what happened except for that she panicked for some reason (even though everything was okay) and pulled the needle out and then there was blood everywhere. I didn’t react as badly as I thought I would have (i.e., I didn’t faint dead away at the sight of all of my blood not in me or in the Vacutainer tube), but I was definitely not about to let her try again on my other arm (and she didn’t want to anyway).

And that should have been the end of my blood draw guinea pig experience. But curious med student that I was, I still wanted my blood drawn because the medical technologist trainees were going to run some tests on the blood and I (irrationally) wanted to see if anything was wrong with me. So, since I didn’t want to risk another botched attempt, I found a med tech (and not a trainee) who was supervising the whole ordeal to draw the sample. I wasn’t too apprehensive since these med techs are certified phlebotomists and should know what they’re doing (or so I thought). And this time I watched. Okay, good. No blood everywhere. Everything should be okay now. But it wasn’t. For some reason, instead of just leaving the needle in place once the blood started flowing out, this med tech (who must like making people suffer) just kept pushing the needle further and further in. Not further into the vessel but further down (as in, aren’t you going to go through the vessel?!). I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t want to risk any further blunders. Besides, a certified phlebotomist should know what she’s doing. Who am I, lowly med student that I am, to question someone who’s been certified to do this? But when it started hurting, I had to say something. She could have been stabbing a nerve and I really need my right arm! So I told her as nicely as I could that she had the needle in too far. She apologized and pulled it back a bit. And then she proceeded to start pushing it in again! I complained again and she pulled back again. And then she pushed it deeper again! Now I really just wanted this over with, so I just withstood the pain until she was done. But what was once a semi-healthy-not-so-bad fear of needles and blood draws has probably turned into a crippling one. I don’t know for sure since I haven’t had my blood drawn since. And my arm hurt for a good three months after that. I’m just lucky no permanent damage was done. This guy wasn’t so lucky.

A little awhile ago, I wrote about an imaging system that projects veins onto the skin, which aids in the identification of veins for venous access. Would it have helped in my case? No, not really. The problem wasn’t in finding the vein. The problem was in doing the procedure right. And that’s why it’s important that we practice, practice, practice even though it’s really not pleasant (for us or our victims) to be so inept at it. Nothing can really help us become not-so-inept except for experience. And experience involves making mistakes so that we don’t keep making them in the future. So, to all of those patients (and fellow med students) out there who put up with being stuck by med students: thank you.

on sarcasm

No wonder my sarcasm is lost on so many people.  Understanding sarcasm requires “complex thinking.”  Enough said.


grand rounds 2.40

Don’t forget to check out Grand Rounds today at Medviews.

and here i thought it was just my in-laws

New research shows that adults are now more immature than ever. Now that explains a lot, doesn’t it? However, the scientist studying this phenomenon dubbed psychological neoteny doesn’t think it’s a bad thing. He actually calls it “characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people.” Say what? Sorry, but I don’t think so. My in-laws are definitely not highly educated, effective, or socially valuable people. They don’t contribute to society, they leech from it. He also goes on to say that professional people (such as scientists) are often immature outside of their areas of expertise in that they are unpredictable, don’t have their priorities straight, and overreact a lot. Again, I don’t understand where this statement comes from. In every profession, there are always the few who are immature and like to throw tantrums, but to generalize this to all professional people? I sure as hell don’t act the way he describes when I’m outside of my area of expertise. The words immaturity and cognitive flexibility are used interchangeably in this article and I suspect that what he means is that those with more cognitive flexibility (and not necessarily those who are immature) tend to do well in life. Now that makes sense since having an open mind and being able to adapt to all sorts of situations (thought-wise and otherwise) are essential for success. Now I don’t think that having cognitive flexibility = immaturity and vice versa. A person can be immature as hell and still not be receptive to new ideas (need I mention mother-in-law here?) or successful. I’d like to think that I’m cognitively flexible, but that I’m not so immature. And I’m pretty sure that most other professionals out there are successful because they are more cognitively flexible than immature. At least I sure hope so. In the meantime, all this study does is give all those annoyingly immature people (and by immature, I mean those pesky college kids who think they’re so entitled, those grown women who throw tantrums if things are not done their way, mother-in-law) another reason not to bother with bettering themselves. In other words, it’s telling sand people that it’s okay (actually that it just might be good) to be sand people.

quote of the day

There really is no patch for human stupidity.

~ Microsoft security official on why phishing is such a problem

*sigh* true, so true…