You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.

Okay, I lied, this isn’t a real update. But this article showed up on my facebook newsfeed and I was intrigued. I’d love to get some feedback from my readers on this one if anyone has more information or opinions about the implications.

Apparently ADHD has been linked to a missing genetic sequence.

This has pretty far reaching implications given the recent surge in prescription of ADHD medication. My personal theory was that ADHD was a legitimate mental disorder whose vague parameters were being exploited by parents and individuals who wanted to add a little pharmaceutical boost to their GPA. My first instinct is to take this article as confirmation of my theory, but that would require widespread genetic testing of people diagnosed with ADHD to say with any certainty.

With a small amount of biology under my belt, a few questions jump to mind. Primarily, what do these genes code for? The article implies that they control the expression of other genes in the DNA that create proteins. Coding for proteins is pretty much DNA’s reason for existence, so what proteins are we talking about? Are the same proteins unregulated in all of the children? Are there actually larger or smaller amounts of these proteins in their bodies? Do we know the purpose of these particular proteins? (Keep in mind that proteins do everything from keeping your skin cells glued together to protecting you from disease and everything else in between.)

Will ADHD become a testable disease? Will insurance companies start to require more concrete evidence of an ADHD diagnosis before covering prescriptions made by psychiatrists? I suspect most of the psychiatrists will want to stick to their DSM criteria to diagnose the disease, but that’s the cynic in me (more subjective diagnosis means more flexibility with the diagnosis means more clients and will also keep treatment firmly in their territory.)

Did you know that if you massage a person’s phantom limb, they can actually experience relief?

This is something that was mentioned to me while I was in massage school and I’d repeated a few times since then. I didn’t know of any scientific basis for this fact, I just thought it was interesting and hadn’t heard anyone refute it.

Apparently not only is it a real, scientific phenomenon, but the reason behind it has to do with these nifty things in our brains called mirror neurons that were probably responsible for a lot of our evolutionary learning.

VS Ramachandran is without a doubt my favorite TED speaker thus far. This talk manages to link neuroscience to religion, massage, evolution and the humanities all in less than eight minutes. If you enjoyed it, I highly recommend his 2007 talk where you can learn about three really bizarre neurological disorders that have helped give us insight into how the brain functions.

(PS. I’m working on a real blog update, I promise. For some reason I’m only motivated to write when I have exams to study for…imagine that.)

“Some professions have to worry about absenteeism—employees not reporting to work. But in the medical field, researchers are calling attention again to the troublesome trend of presenteeism among health care workers and its implications.”

Medicine is a competitive field, and it’s not easy to take a day off. Would you be willing to wait for your doctor to recover from a cold before a checkup? What if you’re getting surgery? What if the doctor might have swine flu?

It’s not surprising that overworked, sleep deprived residents working in hospitals full of sick people would end up under the weather. But in competitive programs that need all hands on deck, how do you convince your future doctors (and their fellow residents who will be picking up the slack) that they should stay home?

“‘We noticed that if residents called in sick, people questioned their motives; and if they came in sick people questioned their judgment,’ Anupam Jena, a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and coauthor of the analysis, said in a prepared statement.”

I guess the key is not to get sick. Of course, once we figure out how to do that, we’ll all be out of a job. In the meantime, may the best immune system win.

Okay I’m going to say it. God may strike me down and the earth may cease to revolve around the sun, but here it goes:

I like organic chemistry.

Whew! That was easier than I thought. I’ll undoubtedly be made to regret my words before too long—next Tuesday I’ll find out that I have to memorize all 4,347 isomers of pentadecane or my model kit will try to eat me in the night—but for right now I’m honestly enjoying organic chemistry.

I’m not alone either. In the face of the evil, looming monster that is physics, organic chemistry has become a safe haven for most of the postbacs. My suspicion is that this may be due to it being the only class in which we get to play with toys. Okay, technically they’re called “Organic Model Kits,” but really they’re just tinker toys for nerdy people. My inner six year old is having a blast.

Unfortunately, even though I’m enjoying organic chemistry and maintain my deep abiding love for biology, I’m spend an absurdly disproportionate amount of time on the one subject I would gladly avoid altogether. That’s another aspect of this program that seems to be pretty universal: physics is difficult and unrewarding. It can be Newton’s fourth law.

This week we have our first two exams of the semester. The nervousness is palpable; by this time in the summer semester we were gearing up for our final exam. Now we’re facing two unknown quantities and trying to determine the best mode of attack. It’s comforting to be doing this as a group; no matter how confused or terrified I feel after a lecture or a quiz, there always seems to be another postbac who is in exactly the same mindset. Perhaps it’s a case of misery loving company, but when you’re surrounded by twenty-four intelligent, driven individuals who all still find physics utterly impenetrable…well we’re not going to be the first round of postbacs to all fail to get into medical school, now are we.

So keep your fingers and toes crossed for us this week. I’ll be back after the we show the laws the physics who’s boss. (The boss being physics obviously….)

When was it decided that good scientists were fast scientists? Physics class seems to prioritize speed over accuracy in every way. In lab, the experiments are simple but numerous enough to fill the whole period even if you don’t take time to ask questions or measure things out accurately. The post-lab quiz, despite being online, is timed; 45 minutes from the minute you click the link, even if you click the link by accident. Exams for biology and organic chem. are given a separate period so we’ll have enough time to finish all the problems; physics is a race against the clock in the hour and fifteen minute class period.

It’s not that learning to work with a time limit is necessarily a bad thing, if for no other reason than the MCAT looming over our heads. But it’s frustrating to realize that a large part of my grade in the subject I find the most challenging won’t necessarily reflect my understanding.

Today our lab featured a motion detector and a long series of graphs that compared position, velocity and acceleration. The subject matter was simple enough; the concepts were ones we’d explored in the first week of classes. The real challenge was walking at the motion detector in a way that created the graphs we desired. As it turns out, walking at a constant velocity is nearly impossible. We spent most of the lab period trying to do it as effectively as possible.

Outside of the physics lab room there is a wide screen television mounted on the wall. It plays an ongoing slide show about the wonders of a physics major. Did you know it only takes these five classes to complete the major? And that physics majors are great candidates for medical school? I feel like they might have more luck if they spent a bit more time stressing the application of physics, and a bit less grading me on how smoothly I can walk toward a table.

I realize that physics literally makes the world go around, but that sure doesn’t make it fun to study.

Shadowing, on the other hand, is the highlight of my week. Today Dr. H told us the one question you can ask to determine the senility of a patient:

“How are you enjoying the food here?”

Any responses indicating enjoyment of the hospital cuisine is a sure sign that something in their brain isn’t firing properly.

The second moment was a bit more sobering. One of the patients was a terminal case. He and his wife were both in the room when we came by for rounds. Dr. H asked her if they’d discussed her husband’s options; she replied that they were waiting to talk about it later.

As we began to file out of the room, she called after us: “Can I speak to the students for a moment, please?”

She followed us to the doorway. The two third-year students and I hung back slightly.

“I just wanted to say that neurology is a very hard specialty. But if you’re up for it…it’s really important.”

She cut off, clearly overwhelmed. I felt my own chest tighten in sympathy.

“That’s all,” she said, and turned back into the room.