Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Most Noble Profession
Medicine, I consider, a very noble profession. At its core is the commitment to both extend and improve the lives of others. But, it is the endeavour to fill those lives with meaning that I reserve the designation of the most noble profession, to be a teacher. I have always seen myself as a teacher first. I absolutely love to teach. When I was in sixth grade I went to the third grade classes to assist with reading. I continued with 'peer' teaching through junior high and high school. At church, I began teaching the Priests at age sixteen (the age that we become Priests), and have continued as a teacher at church since that time.
I had the privilege of dedicating two years of my life teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Argentina, and the lessons that I learned there still serve me today. Argentina es lo mejor lugar para ser misionero.
When I returned to college, I had a professor named Dr. Bradshaw. He taught Cellular and Developmental Biology. He had a unique style of teaching. Rather than present to us a laundry list of facts that we would regurgitate onto the test and then summarily forget, he taught us how to analyze data. The test would consist of an experiment that we had not previously seen. He had given us the tools to understand the process and would then ask, "These are the data, what do they mean?" What a concept, asking a student to think.
In his first lecture, he likened all of us to a sponge. He even had a slide showing a sponge with head, feet and arms. "All of us are students and teachers throughout our lives", he said. "As we learn we are filling the sponge, and when we teach, we are wringing it out". How that rang true. I will always be both a student and a teacher.
When it came time to choose my path in medicine, I was influenced by an observation of one my professors during my residency at UC Davis. I was a little disillusioned about academic medicine as it seemed so focused on publishing and getting grants. Dr Stone reminded me, "Kevin, academics is about teaching." I had the great privilege of being on the faculty at Yale University, School of Medicine for 11 years and had specific lectures in all four years in the medical school curriculum. The greatest 'rush' that I would get as a teacher was when, half way through a lecture, such as male infertility, the hands would start to go up and the questions would begin. Then I knew that I had made a connection and they were thinking. I can't tell you how much I miss that.
Teaching did not stop when I came to Kaiser. I still get to work with residents, and of course, I teach my patients; but that also in now temporarily gone. However, I can still teach.
Becoming a patient has taught me some truly valuable lessons. I will be able to share these experiences with others. Today, while getting my chemotherapy, I was sitting next to an elderly woman. As she heard me banter with the nurse, she commented, "How do you stay so positive?" She is fighting a tough battle with brain cancer. I asked her, "What are your goals?" She responded that she recently became a grandmother and wanted to have time with her grandchild. I reminded her that her goal can keep her focused on winning those extra days.
Friday I will meet with the Bone Marrow team at Stanford. Stem cell transplant for amyloidosis in heart transplant patients is rare. So rare that Dr Lacy at the Mayo Clinic suggested that I return there to Minnesota for the treatment. It is trickier after a heart transplant because the anti-rejection drugs can make the infection risk even higher. Stanford, however, has begun a new multidisciplinary Amylodosis treatment center and they need to build a program that will also give them the expertise to treat patients like me. I will be their first BMT after heart transplant. I figured that as they treat me I can be their teacher. They will learn from their communications with the Mayo Clinic; they will learn from my bad days, they will learn from my complications; and hopefully they will learn from my successful completion of the treatment.
And thus, I can still be a teacher.
I have been given so much in my life. I can never fully recompense, no matter how much I serve in return, but I am always happy to try.