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Conventional Wisdom

Ben_3Ben Bryner -- One of the common problems I run into while trying to write medicine-related blog posts is that for so many topics, Atul Gawande has already written about them so much better. One of these topics is the annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons, which he describes in the chapter of Complications entitled "Nine Thousand Surgeons" (you can read it, at least for now, at Google Books).

The meeting, properly known as the Clinical Congress, draws a huge number from all over the world. There are hundreds of hours of presentations and courses on all kinds of topics. The difference between this meeting and the basic-science conference some of us are more familiar with was the sheer number of panel discussions on the best ways to treat surgical problems. One of the most interesting lectures I attended was on different advances in treating the adult respiratory distress syndrome, where I was impressed by the....oh, forget it, just read Gawande to get an idea of what the panels are like, I can't compete.

There were also several hours of presentations aimed specifically at medical students. Most of them focused on advice to students at various stages of med school, the interview process, etc. Some were helpful, although the problem with any conference talk, on any subject, is that you usually don't get much time to do more than skim the surface. One exception was when the new president of the ACS gave the students a lecture on Dr. William Halsted, the founder of modern surgical training. Usually I don't get as excited as some people do about the history of medicine, but this was actually pretty interesting. He talked about Halsted's achievements and how they were even more remarkable in light of Halsted's addictions (first to cocaine, then to morphine) stemming from his early research into local anesthesia. And I'm not sure this was the point of his lecture, but it did make me realize I haven't had it so bad in medical school. Lectures and rotations are tough, but at least I haven't had to deal with the headaches of a narcotic addiction.

At the ACS, Gawande described feeling like a part of a "nation of doctors," which it certainly does when the convention dominates so much activity. It doesn't just fill up hotel rooms, it seems to take over the city to the point that city buses carry advertisements for company booths inside the convention. Normally, being in a crowd of nine thousand or so would make me feel anonymous and detached from others in the group. But I didn't, partly because I kept running into attendings from my school (usually right as I was taking a bite of food or blowing my nose or something), and partly because there was really a feeling of camaraderie despite the widely varying levels of training of everyone there. I'm very glad I had the experience.

October 21, 2008 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


As a med student, I follow your blogs because of the unique and individual perspective you bring to this experience. As a writer, I am always interested in a good stories and you do tell them. I agree, Dr. Gawande is a seer, I have read most of his work and his most recent piece "Itch" was like a clinical pearl wrapped up in amazing literary narrative. That said, I still come here and read this blog and feel informed. Your blog pieces may seem superficial, but the cumulative effects are deep. After all this reading, I attempt to find the words to express my experience in medicine and because of your effort here, I know it can be done....

Posted by: katherine | Oct 21, 2008 6:38:06 PM

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