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Beyond McDreamy: Real Medical Heroes

NewaaronAaron Singh -- The previous post by our dear nearly-graduating fellow blogger Kristen got me to thinking about heroes. (No, not the new American TV series, you addicts.) We all need heroes. I could go on and on about why, but then I’d just be ripping off Aunt May’s speech from Spider-Man 2, so suffice it to say that we need someone to look up to and to show us that things can be done. Call it the "4-minute mile effect," if you will, named after Roger Bannister who ran a mile in 4 minutes and showed the world that it could be done, after which a bunch of other runners perked up and said “Hang on a minute, maybe it IS physically possible after all” and started doing the same thing themselves.

Basically, we need someone to show us that it can be done. Someone to inspire us; someone who gives us strength, makes us noble -- no wait, hang on, that’s the speech from Spider-Man 2 again. Um. Okay, never mind. Anyway, we in medicine are no different -- we look up to famous doctors, teachers and role models. Unfortunately, if you ask anyone nowadays to name a famous medical role model, the answer will most often be:

“Why, Dr McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy, of course!”

Or Dr House. Or McSteamy or McSleepy or McCreepy or whatever. The point is, the deluge of medical dramas on television has changed the way people view medicine. There is some evidence that medical school applications have risen as a result of popular medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House. And while the actors' portrayals of doctors are commendable, they're not very realistic. Wanting to be like them is all well and good -- until you actually GET into medical school.

Then you realise it’s not possible to have a “hunch” and be correct in your diagnosis every time despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary. You realise that not every patient who goes into cardiac arrest is going to survive after you thump his chest a few times. You can’t treat patients and nurses like crap and get away with it. And no, every time you burst through double doors the E.R. theme is NOT going to play, and your white coat will NOT be billowing heroically behind you. (Dangit.)

Thankfully though, one thing medicine has no shortage of is real heroes. These are usually the unsung ones, the kind of hero that you find in everyday life, whose efforts usually go unnoticed. Like the specialist who actually treats students nicely and who doesn’t mind teaching you a little bit extra. Or the nurse who stays behind after her shift to make sure her patients are okay. Or the professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty because they are truly dedicated to their jobs, and who do their jobs well despite knowing they won’t get any extra recognition for it.

Being a preclinical medic, I haven’t seen many of these heroes (but I’m told they’re out there in almost every hospital; all of my medic friends have someone they look up to. Do you?) Those that I have had the pleasure of knowing have touched me with their dedication. I’ll talk about one of the more famous heroes here at Cambridge in my next post. In the meantime, I need to get to the library before all the spaces are snapped up -- people actually queue up waiting for other people to vacate their seats. The sheer madness of it all.

See why we need heroes?

May 22, 2007 | Permalink


Not only you look up to them, but even more you want to BE them. Medicine can be like a "craft" in some ways, and when a teacher shows you how it's done, if they have the talent to, they can cary you away and you feel it- that you can (and will) actually be them some day. Standing in their shoes in your own personal way.
You get that feeling when a doctor gives a lecture, and it's time to leave, and none of the students gets up. And then the doctor asks if you want them to stop - and you can hear a murmur of "no". And then the next lecturer comes and they argue about the doctor taking up their time - and one of the students (a non geek one) yells "please sir, go on" and you can see the doctor smiling because they realise they "got through" and an audience of silent students is looking up to them.
It happens rarely, but it does happen.

Posted by: Ms Ellisa | May 22, 2007 1:17:07 PM

Thank you! Maybe it's just my part of the world, and the fact that I keep quiet about being a pre-med, but after about 10 minutes of knowing someone they (almost always) launch into a diatribe about something medical: how doctors are useless or how the medical profession is a joke. It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I feel a little persecuted just for wanting to be a doctor! I think that throwing in these ubiquitous media images of brilliant, seat-of-their-pants diagnosing, oversexed, and fantastically rich doctors isn't helping us very much, particularly if it's drawing more people to this profession for all the wrong reasons. I know everyone trying to get into medical school says they desperately want to help people, but let's face facts here: there ARE a lot of people already in the medical profession for all the wrong reasons. I'm all for making people understand that doctors aren't just arrogant, perscription-happy bastards, but is this the best way? I agree that we do need heroes, but also medical students need average-joe heroes, I think. Atul Gawande is a prime example. (although he is incredibly intelligent and I feel I'm doing a disservice by calling him average) He is brilliant, and I'm sure a wonderful doctor, but he also acknowledges that putting it all on the line (hospital drama staple) has some serious consequences requires some reflection on what has been right and wrong. We do need heroes (although it's a grossly overused word nowadays), but we also have to see doctors as human, not the equivalent of savior-or-devil that is common among those without an inside perspective on the medical profession. There is no need to demonize someone, painting them as a mass murderer when they're just overworked and tired. Similarly, we shouldn't be encouraging people who make snap, uninformed diagnoses. Where is our comfortable middle?

Posted by: A | May 25, 2007 12:24:02 PM

There are many heroes I have known over the years. One that really stands out in my mind is Dr. L. Heck of rheumatology at University of Alabama in Birmingham. He is always kind and gentle and thinking of making things better for suffering patients, and he taught me to do joint injections to help others as well. Thanks, Dr. Heck.

To quote Spidey, "With great power comes great responsibility".

Posted by: drvictoria | May 29, 2007 9:08:02 PM

i have 3 medical heroes that shaped who and where i am today... the vascular surgeon in my hometown who, through his compassion and sheer dedication (despite a gruff exterior) inspired me to go into medicine in the 1st place. the orthopaedic trauma surgeon during my clerkship who took the time to teach and encourage me to follow my aptitudes -- who actually took a vested interest in me and tried his best to "sell" his specialty to me (and succeeded!!) and last but not least, my neurosurgery attending from my 1st rotation of residency -- a rotation i feared/dreaded as i had no NSx experience at all coming out of medical school. he is one of those all-stars who has extensive post-grad training and multiple research awards. someone who works too much because he is driven to by his own ambition as well as because he has an inherent sense of obligation to provide the best care possible to his patients at any cost. someone who you can't help to want to emulate both clinical and academically. he took the time to teach, provided me, the lowly "green" PGY-1 amazing opportunities to actually operate, and treated me like a colleauge, not a subordinate. i had zero interest in spine surgery upon selection of an orthopaedic residency but because of my neurosurg experience am now contemplating a spine fellowship. so an extra special thank you to dr's fratesi, sanders and christie. you all rock!!

Posted by: | May 30, 2007 11:38:48 AM

Yes... I have had the privilege of being taught by inspiring doctors. They have been capable of teaching me lessons in medicine and lessons in living. They have transmitted a powerful message by means of their words, deeds and lifestyle. They have taught me important lessons in the clinic, in the classroom and even in informal conversation. Mr. Laurence V. Zrinzo was the first Maltese Neurosurgeon. He founded the local Neurosurgical Unit. His wife, Dr. Sylvia Zrinzo is a wonderful radiologist. These people have inspired me and to this very day they continue to encourage me. They have inspired my desire to become a neurosurgeon myself. Another inspiring lecturer who has influenced my life has been Dr. Lucia Micallef Hawkes, a gynaecologist who has always shown great interest in her students. Whenever Mr. Zrinzo or Dr. Micallef Hawkes would give a lecture, the lecture room would be full. No one ever missed their lectures because their message was given with powerful speech, examples from the clinic, examples from everyday life; they made the subject interesting and were passionate about it. Another person who has greatly influenced my life has been my Head of Psychiatry, Dr. David R. Cassar. Dr. Cassar is a very dedicated psychiatrist with great kindness and goodness of heart. He is very dedicated to his patients and students. His encouragement has helped me face difficult times.
Yes... I want to be like these people... To me, they are the greatest people in the world because of the mark they have made in my life.
Words are not sufficient to express my gratitude to them!

Posted by: AMS | Jun 2, 2007 5:43:27 AM

Some one mentioned Atul Gawande. I had a chance to hear him speak and then talk to him afterwards. To me he is a hero. After getting sick and having to deal with a lot of doctors that have major ego issues, it was nice to meet a doctor that admitts he makes mistakes. Nice, you may ask?? How can that be nice? A friend told me a doctor that admitted he makes mistakes would have her running for the hills For me the honesty was refreshing. I have not seen a lot of humility in doctors lately, and this was a pleasant change of pace.

Posted by: saraiderin | Jun 16, 2007 12:45:44 PM

Oh, forgot to mention. I am a heros addict. :o)

Posted by: saraiderin | Jun 16, 2007 12:47:03 PM

Wow, he's great! I want to be like him too!


Posted by: pain management emr | Jul 22, 2010 8:55:36 AM

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