HBCU medical schools at Morehouse, Meharry, and Howard lead “social mission” metric – Annals of Internal Medicine

ResearchBlogging.orgReuters Health Executive Editor and proprietor of the excellent Embargo Watch blog, Ivan Oransky, was kind to alert me to this topical paper that appeared in Monday’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools.
To the credit of the Annals, the full text of the primary article is currently free. An accompanying editorial is behind the subscription wall.
The study was conducted led by Fitzhugh Mullan with Candice Chen, MD, Gretchen Kolsky, and Michael Spagnola from the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University and Stephen Petterson, PhD from The Robert Graham Center was supported with funding from the Josiah Macy Foundation.
The authors developed a metric called “social mission” to rate US medical schools on their responsiveness to three major issues they cite as facing medical schools and policymakers: “an insufficient number of primary care physicians, geographic maldistribution of physicians, and the lack of a representative number of racial and ethnic minorities in medical schools and in practice.”

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NIDA Launches Medical Curricular Resources on Substance Abuse and Dependence

I missed this note on Friday at the Wall Street Journal Health Blog but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has made available some great new curricular resources through their Centers of Excellence for Physician Information Program (NIDA CoEs) (press release)

“Physicians can be the first line of defense against substance abuse and addiction, but they need the resources and the training,” said NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “Our long term goal is for doctors to incorporate screening for drug use into routine practice like they currently screen for other diseases; to help patients that are abusing to stop; and to refer more serious cases to specialized treatment.”
Three themes have emerged in this first wave of CoE offerings: the importance of communication in the doctor-patient relationship, particularly around sensitive issues; the recognition that substance abuse may play an integral role in many disorders physicians treat, even when not the presenting condition; and the crucial part physicians can play in both identifying substance abuse in their patients and reducing their risk of developing a substance use disorder.

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Publishers Weekly Cover Girl: Rebecca Skloot and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (HeLa)

Hella HeLa!
Skloot PW 275px.jpgSkloot is PWned, as it were.
I learned late last night that author Rebecca Skloot was to be featured on the cover of this week’s issue of Publishers Weekly. So, I clicked on the site this morning before the coffee was even done brewing and there is our wordsmithing hero.
I know that “The Making of a Bestseller 2010” is sure to make any author nervous but my reading of the manuscript tells me that the prediction is entirely consistent with the work.
Regular readers will know that we featured Ms Skloot here last week to brainstorm about her upcoming, self-supported book tour following the 2 February 2010 release of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Well, this issue of PW revealed Skloot’s account behind-the-scenes machine behind said book tour, beginning as follows:

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Bring Rebecca Skloot and Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) to your town

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 250px.jpgSome readers may be aware that Rebecca Skloot is about to release her much-anticipated book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a story that is about much more than the black Southern woman whose cervical cancer gave rise to the most famous human cancer cell line. (Crown, 2 Feb 2010, preorder here).
HeLa cells, as they are known, have played a role in the development of vaccines for polio and cervical cancer, the part of last year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Harald zur Hausen, and the PhD thesis 20 years ago of a certain natural products pharmacology blogger.
Having been invited to serve as a scientific reviewer of the manuscript, I can tell you that Skloot’s book is a wonderfully engaging tale that is about much more than the history of the establishment and propagation of a cell line. Indeed, this is unquestionably and foremost a painstakingly-researched narrative of the science behind the cells and the personalities at the center of their popularization. But the true power of this work is that it is woven with a simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of the Lacks family and the evolution of bioethics in medicine.
What I least expected, perhaps, was to be so deeply touched by Skloot’s rich account of African-American medical history and life in the South for blacks from pre-slavery times through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. I could almost feel the oppressive humidity and smell the sun-bleached wood of long-abandoned tobacco drying houses. Since joining ScienceBlogs over three years ago, I’ve received a large number of free books to review. None have ever touched the scientist and the soul like this book.
Skloot’s book is already drawing acclaim, having been named a Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” pick for Spring 2010 and this starred review by Publishers Weekly:

Science journalist Skloot makes a remarkable debut with this multilayered story about “faith, science, journalism, and grace.” It is also a tale of medical wonders and medical arrogance, racism, poverty and the bond that grows, sometimes painfully, between two very different women–Skloot and Deborah Lacks–sharing an obsession to learn about Deborah’s mother, Henrietta, and her magical, immortal cells. Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year-old black mother of five in Baltimore when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Without her knowledge, doctors treating her at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix for research. They spawned the first viable, indeed miraculously productive, cell line–known as HeLa. These cells have aided in medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. What Skloot so poignantly portrays is the devastating impact Henrietta’s death and the eventual importance of her cells had on her husband and children. Skloot’s portraits of Deborah, her father and brothers are so vibrant and immediate they recall Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family. Writing in plain, clear prose, Skloot avoids melodrama and makes no judgments. Letting people and events speak for themselves, Skloot tells a rich, resonant tale of modern science, the wonders it can perform and how easily it can exploit society’s most vulnerable people. (Feb.) [tagline emphasis mine -APB]

I wanted to share an idea on how readers can support Rebecca (and other writers like her) who have books from major publishing houses that increasingly do not provide support for book tours (no offense intended to the publishing house since I had a book with them in 1997 and did not get a book tour either).
For such an academically-minded book that appeals to both scholars and the lay public interested in science, ethics, race, culture, and medicine, I’ve been working on funding Ms. Skloot’s visit to PharmboyLand by soliciting support from various university lecture series programs.
How can you do the same?
If you’re at a medical or pharmacy school, hit up your cancer center or medical humanities program. If you are at a minority institution, you can hit up your programs that address health disparities or medical mistrust/racism issues. If you are in an arts & humanities department, you can hit up the folks who bring in speakers on Southern culture and history.
For you undergraduate, graduate and medical students, I know that you have student activities fund pools that would give you hundreds of bucks to a grand or two to bring in a speaker and that those funds sometimes go unspent because you really don’t know who would be a good choice.
Well, choose Skloot. Rebecca is the kind of writer and speaker you want to bring to town. I know about 300 folks who would tell you the same after we all packed a lecture hall last year at ScienceOnline’09 to hear her talk about the book and read excerpts. “Moving and engaging of both the heart and mind” is what my tasting notes read from last year.
Then, when Skloot is at your university, you’ll bring her around to all the indy bookstores in your area that host readings and signings. Organize dinners with local media, bloggers, women in STEM groups, local authors. Get her on your local radio station. Help her make interview contacts for your local paper. People will thank you for bringing Rebecca’s work to your community. I’ve done this kind of thing for others before and it’s great fun, especially when you’re promoting someone who you admire.
And to think that you don’t even have to take ten years out of your life to write a book to have such a satisfying experience.!
Here is her tour map below and you can click on this link to go to Google and get the embed code for your own blog to produce this annotated map.

Note that if you are in the Northeastern US, you will have the double pleasure of being joined by Skloot’s father, creative nonfiction, writer, poet, and novelist, Floyd Skloot. Here is a lovely article, Tales of a Literary Dynasty, by John Calderazzo from the alumni mag of Colorado State University about the father and daughter team (Rebecca is a 1997 BS biological sciences grad of CSU).
To contact Rebecca Skloot regarding a book tour stop in your town, email her and get more details from this post on her blog, Culture Dish.

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Dr Saul Schanberg: neuroscientist, physician, mentor, teacher, father, husband

Saul and Rachel.JPGAlthough I saw this obituary over the weekend, I didn’t get to posting it until today. I was reminded by a local friend, an outstanding young scientist in her own right, of the impact that Dr Schanberg had made on so, so many lives in science, medicine, and our larger community.
I only had the honor of meeting Dr Schanberg once, shortly after his cancer diagnosis, while we were at a Duke Cancer Patient Support Center fundraising dinner. His wife of over 50 years, Rachel, is founder and former director of the organization which they started following the loss of their own daughter.
Among the many scientists and physicians that were mentored by Dr Schanberg is my dear friend and colleagues, Dr Cindy Kuhn. I knew that Dr Kuhn had worked with Dr Schanberg extensively, having co-authored 83 publications. What I had not appreciated previously was that Cindy had also done her PhD work with Saul – so much for that rule of distancing oneself from one’s mentor.
I can’t do any better than the obituary that follows.

“Saul was a warm and wonderful, high-spirited, opinionated and good humored man much loved for his infectious enthusiasm for science, his love of Duke (and Duke basketball) and most importantly his commitment to his family and friends.”

And I couldn’t live a life any better than that.

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How to broaden the reach and legitimacy of blogging to practicing scientists

Several of my blogging colleagues have been discussing over the last few days whether there is value in cultivating fellow scientists as readers of science blogs. While some find this a waste of time, others recognize that blogs provide a useful, real-time platform for disseminating information and discussing current issues and career development challenges that cannot be done well in print format. The informality of the blog also allows for frank discussion to be had between senior scientists, trainees, and the general public that do not often (if at all) occur at one’s home institution.
Colleague Isis (and her generous readers!) has done a terrific job lately in using her blog to cultivate career development funds in support of an American Physiological Society David S. Bruce Award for outstanding undergraduate research. This effort has increased awareness among society members and leadership regarding the value of blogs to the greater scientific community.
As such, Isis has put forth this question in part two of a twopart series, Who Cares About Blogs?

[H]ow do we blog to scientists who do not know or understand blogging, or who have the pre-conceived notion that blogs are places where 16 year old girls write about what they had for breakfast?

My answer is influenced heavily by discussions I have had with my colleague DrugMonkey, an NIH-funded scientist who is outside my area of expertise but with whom I share these goals:

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Allies: Duke’s Henry Friedman, MD

In preparing for the ScienceOnline’09 session on Gender in Science – Online and Offline, one planned discussion point will be how to enlist allies representing the dominant power structure to enhance equality and diversity in the STEM disciplines. No one ally can do it all but a combination of like-minded people can make a huge difference.
Here is a terrific example of an ally, written by superb higher ed reporter, Eric Ferreri, of the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer, on Dr Henry Friedman and CAPE, the Collegiate Athletic Pre-Medical Experience:

Georgia Beasley was practicing her jump shot and needed someone to rebound for her. Ten-year-old Sara Friedman was waiting for a ride after a Duke basketball camp session.
For Beasley — a Duke basketball star who then went by her maiden name, Schweitzer — this chance moment nine years ago proved momentous. It led to a conversation with Friedman’s father, Henry, a Duke oncologist. Beasley was then a Duke junior with an eye on medical school. She wanted a better idea of what awaited her, but didn’t know where to turn.
Friedman was sympathetic. He invited her to shadow him at the hospital. She balked at first, saying she couldn’t commit to the fixed schedule doctors generally follow.
No problem, Friedman told her. Come when you can. Get a feel for medicine.
She did. A decade later, she’s a Duke surgeon.

Henry is a remarkable guy – a bearded, hyperkinetic native New Yorker who developed his science chops early at the city’s well-regarded Stuyvesant High School. He joined Duke in 1983 as an assistant professor where he has remained, rising to serve as co-director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Institute, a center that dates back to 1938 (eons ago in brain tumor time). He is often mistaken for his unrelated Duke colleague, Allan Friedman, the neurosurgeon cited more often in the national press for having operated on many high-profile patients. (I wrote a few months ago about the Drs Friedman here).
I need to ask Henry how he developed such a passion for the advancement female athletes but I suspect having a daughter plays into the mix. What I love about Henry is that he has taken his stature at an extremely competitive medical school and cancer center and provided opportunities for women in medicine.

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Bora runs out of internet; starts new carnival – CORRECTION: Martin (The Lay Scientist) is the actual founder

CORRECTION: The following was to be a part-sincere/part-serious sendup of my buddy Bora’s penchant for monitoring the entire Internet. Bora did indeed host the first edition of Praxis, the new blog carnival of academic life.
The Praxis experimental carnival of “the experience of living the scientific” was established, founded, and otherwise continues to be led by Martin, author of The Lay Scientist blog.

Martin.gifMini Bio:
Well I’m Martin, I live in Cambridge, England, and this is me on the Amazon in 2007. I did a frankly weird Ph.D. looking at the relationship between models from ecology, immunology and socioeconomics, and currently I’m a soon-to-be-unemployed post-doc working on ecological and biological modeling.

Bora did indeed suggest the idea in his comment to his own post on blog carnivals. But it was Martin who on that very same day conceived and compiled the listing, call for a name, called for hosts and posts, and all else associated with establishing a new blog carnival: guidelines, schedule, etc.
And you’ve got to love a gent who leads off Sunday morning with a post entitled, “What Does Human Flesh Taste Like?” that refers to science itself and not that crackergate fiasco.

PraxisI’ve gotta say that I sometimes feel sorry for my bud, Bora Zivkovic. It seems as though Teh Internetz aren’t big enough to exhaust his attention so he feels that he must start a new blog carnival. He mused about it a couple of weeks ago, and now here it is:
Bora is hosting the first edition of Praxis, whose mission statement is as follows:

The carnival is intended to cover all aspects of life as an academic, whether it’s the lifestyle, career progress, doing a Ph.D., getting funding, climbing the slippery pole, academic life as a minority, working with colleagues and students, dealing with the peer-review process, publishing, grants, science 2.0, amusing anecdotes, conference experiences, philosophical musings, public engagement, or even historical articles about what life was like in the good (or bad) old days.

Praxis is derived from the term by Aristotle as the activity or process of practicing or enacting knowledge.
I used to write a lot more about academic mentoring and such but have really dropped off as of late. Still, the Amazing Zivkovic was generous enough to find and grab two of our recent posts to put in Praxis, one on the NEJM article on medical curriculum revision and the other a brief blurb on the latest act of terrorism against researchers who employ animal subjects.

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Too many women physicians are ruining medicine

Okay, some people are smoking some bad dope.
Whilst helping the PharmKid get down to the car for school this morning, I came upon PharmGirl, MD, in a rage while sitting in front of her laptop. The object of her vitriol was a 17 April article in BusinessWeek entitled, “Are There Too Many Women Doctors?: As an MD shortage looms, female physicians and their flexible hours are taking some of the blame.” The article derives from a point/counterpoint pair of essays in the 5 April issue of BMJ (British Medical Journal) entitled, “Are there too many female medical graduates?” (“Yes” position, “No” position – free full text at the time of this posting)
While the BMJ essays primarily address issues in the UK, they are common to the US and many other countries – BusinessWeek’s Catherine Arnst describes the long-term problem that underlies concerns about too many women in medicine:

Various studies have projected a shortfall of anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 physicians in the U.S. relative to demand by 2020, and the Institute of Medicine, a federal advisory body, just reported that in a mere three years senior citizens will be facing a health-care workforce that is “too small and woefully unprepared.”

One cannot deny these facts. But an argument has been made that the increased representation of women among medical graduates is increasing the number of physicians who work part-time or drop out of the physician pool altogether when having children.

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Share your poor-student recipes with Jake

MD/PhD student Jake Young at Pure Pedantry came up with a great idea and is collecting recipes for cheap, grad student/med student meals. (We of Eastern European heritage love a kid who suggests an inventive application of kielbasa.).
The submissions in the comment thread remind me that our food supply system is so screwed up that the most nutritious foods are the most expensive. When one is living on a student stipend, paying your own way, or , more seriously, if you are one of millions of US citizens living in abject poverty, one usually purchases the most calories per dollar. In our country, that usually means something high in saturated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, or both. Healthy food is expensive food.
So, take the challenge and go over to Jake’s to submit one of your favorite recipes for something that is both inexpensive and healthy. It’s not as easy as it might seem.