Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Doctors Should Do Handstands

I recently read an inspiring post in the NY Times, How Creative Is Your Doctor?  - which really reminded me of why I am who I am.  In the article, Danielle Ofri, M.D. talks about how important it is to exercise that part of our brains that allows me to do things like make huge trash sculptures in the shape of a giant peace sign on Earth Day, or do handstands on the sidewalk with my daughters.

We are trained in medicine so diligently to think diagnostically in algorithms, with rote memorization the backbone of our knowledge.  Our brains become rigid with fact after fact; with years of practice we become experts in information categorizing, our neural networks so programmed it becomes almost reflexive.  So much so that with standardization of health care, one could argue, what will we need human doctors for, after all?

Clearly the knowledge is imperative in what we do.  But how do you teach someone the art of talking, really talking, to a patient, in order to get the whole story?  You can't get the answer if you don't ask the right questions, and sometimes this has to come from the interaction you have with the person in front of you, not the patient. So many times clues about onset of illness, mechanism of injury, and associated symptoms come from first 5 minutes in the room, otherwise know as the "History of Present Illness."

My answer (for now) is to do handstands on the sidewalk.  In order to "Think Different", we need to allow ourselves that creative space and energy to loosen our neural networks and expand the connections in all directions.  Some of us are already built that way (I'm pretty sure Steve Jobs didn't need cartwheels to activate his inner genius)- but most of us need to practice the art of creativity.  In light of all the current changes in healthcare, information and technology, what we really need is doctors who are people.  And we need these people to be human, to think outside of the rigid confines of medical algorithms to get to the bottom of whatever is ailing them.

It's not always easy to break free of the structure, and even frowned upon at times by those entrenched in the system.

Never mind- I will be outside doing handstands.