Matula Thoughts July 3, 2015
Independence, PGY1s, peonies, & art.
1. It’s July and peasants farm and shear sheep outside the protective walls of a castle in the beautiful panel of the renowned 15th century illustrated manuscript, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Life was safer within the castle walls than outside them. The authority in charge of the castle and grounds was a nobleman governing locally on behalf of a distant ruler and the governance was absolute. Many Julys have come and gone since the Duke of Berry (600 Julys since 1415) and government has become more representative throughout much of today’s world for villagers, city folk, and the rest of us who perform the daily work of civilization. The relationship between the authority we call government and “the people” has evolved based on principles extending back to the Magna Carta 800 years ago (June 15, 1215) and even before.
[Magna Carta Brit. Lib. 4000 or so words in Latin on sheepskin]
The principles of authority for the United States of America are seated in the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. If you’ve not read the book published last year by Danielle Allen, Our Declaration, you should do so this summer. It is an amazing study and quite readable. As discussed previously on these pages of What’s New and Matula Thoughts, Our Declaration will give you, among many other things, a more sophisticated sense of the idea of equality than you likely now have.
[1337 well-crafted words]
When the three Limbourg brothers of Nijmegen produced the “very richly decorated book of hours” for the Duke of Berry, the Duke probably felt little sense of equality with his workers. In some parts of today’s world things remain little different than in the days of the Très Riches Heures when dukes and kings had total unchecked authority over their subjects. Such nations are rarely successful in terms of aggregate innovation, intellectual contribution, education, environmental stewardship, industrial production, or social justice. Conversely, most modern nations today enjoy a shared belief that all people are equal before the law. In these places where the ideas of representative government, equality, personal liberty, and cosmopolitanism take hold, the potential of the human factor is unleashed and creativity emerges on a large scale. History shows that, when people have freedom to achieve their potentials, individual happiness and general human progress are served far better than when the state or crown decides what’s best for its people. Tomorrow we celebrate that particular success of government by the people, for the people, and of the people in our nation. Yet, these aspirational ideals remain under challenge not only by human imperfections in their implementation, but also by today’s iterations of tribalism, despotism, human subjugation, sectarianism, extremism, and war. The divergent symbolism of a castle and protective walls on one hand, and our iconic monument of an open society is striking.
2. With July comes a new class of interns (PGY1s, residents) and fellows. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this cycle for many years. Our careers flip by in the blink of an eye and I myself was at that early stage of medical education not so long ago. Although relatively clueless back then, I had the ambition of becoming a credible children’s surgeon of one sort or another. With influences like Judah Folkman, Rick Fonkalsrud, Bill Longmire, Don Skinner, Will Goodwin, Joe Kaufman, and Rick Ehrlich, I was inspired to push ahead toward that ambition, but felt a long way from my goal and quite distant from a place in the “establishment” of pediatric surgery and urology. A year in London following the footsteps of David Innes Williams gained me a slight bit of early credibility in addition to lifelong friends in urology – Robert and Anita Morgan, John Fitzpatrick, and Christopher Woodhouse. A couple in the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mike Williams and his wife Judi, further broadened my perspective on the world, and I often think back to Mike’s description of their work as that of “travelling players.” This metaphor applies to us in academic medicine – we are travelling salesmen indeed, going here and there to sell our ideas, observations, clinical experiences, and research findings at national meetings and during visiting professorships. On my return from London I experienced an incomparable month with Hardy Hendren in Boston, filling a notebook equivalent to the size as that from 11 months in London. During that stay I further was schooled in gracious hospitality by Mike and Connie Mitchell and John and Fiona Heaney. Wonderful reminiscences and the start of deep friendships. Our residents and fellows are now assembling their own stories of educational experiences, no doubt as rich and meaningful to them.
3. Most people at certain times of their lives entertain the nagging question of the meaning of life. The question comes up in good times or bad, in the midst of crises, or even randomly. It is too big a question to answer in a general sense and certainly beyond the reach of these small essays. Maybe it’s a silly question, a human conceit, for in the grand scheme of things it could be argued that the meaning of geology, for example, is of no less significance as a question. In the specific personal sense many people find life’s greatest meaning lies in the ways they individually make their lives useful to others. In this sense, then, the meaning of life is simply its public relevance. This might well be Darwin’s ultimate revelation: a life’s meaning is found in its specific relevance today and in its more general relevance to the tomorrow of future generations. The desire to do things for other people is deeply established in our genes and has been reinforced by millennia of human culture. Not only do we seek to have meaning individually to others and to our society, but we are compelled to construct a world where our generation’s children can create their own meaningful lives. It probably seemed easier for the kings, queens, and noblemen in the days of the Duke de Berry. They were born into a world where their meaning (in terms of the faulty surrogate of their self-importance) was pre-ordained, but that world didn’t offer much of a chance for anyone else, hardly a sustainable Darwinian scenario. Self-importance is a biologic necessity, but its socially-acceptable expressions occur across a spectrum with Mother Teresas on one end and Donald Trumps at the other. Off that spectrum, deranged and delusional self-importance leads to shootings, bombings, and beheadings – public slaughterings designed to induce terror and 15 minutes of “fame” that in fact become horrendous perpetual shame for the perp. Random tragedy still stalks us and may never disappear, but our responses as a society are sometimes great and inspiring, as we witnessed in Charleston SC one week ago today.
[Emanuel AME Church, Calhoun St. Charleston SC. June 30, 2015. DAB]
In spite of the personal good fortune of many of us today, our gift of freedom has not been making the world a better place uniformly. One bit of evidence that it’s not: the UN released figures last month showing that 60 million people, half of them children, are fleeing chaotic lands looking for safety, food, and asylum. This is a staggering and unprecedented number. It is mentally incomprehensible. Another bit of evidence: Pope Francis’s recent encyclical Laudato Si, warns that our failure of planetary stewardship has left even larger numbers of mankind living in piles of filth and at risk from effects of deleterious climate change. An article about this 192-page document said: “Pope Francis unmasks himself not only as a very green pontiff, but also as a total policy wonk.” [Faiola, Boorstein, Mooney. National Post (Toronto) June 19, 2015. A11]
4. Last season’s interns are now seasoned house officers (PGY2s). They have performed admirably and are well on their way to becoming excellent urologists. Just as we will make them better, they will make us better. We look forward to their full-bore immersion in urology starting now.
[PGY2s:Ted Lee, Ella Doerge, Parth Shah, Zach Koloff]
Our new interns (PGY1s), mentioned here last month, have just come on board. When I started in that same position at UCLA on July 1, 1971, I stepped right into the game of hospital medicine, taking orders from the higher level residents, watching them and the attendings at work, and anxiously taking call, hopeful that a disaster wouldn’t blow up around me. The world has changed and now we give the new medical school graduates days of preparation for the complex systems of healthcare, the explicit and implicit expectations of their daily work, the hierarchy of graduate medical education, and the local idiosyncrasies of the University of Michigan (e.g. when we put on gowns and gloves in the OR the left hand is always gloved first). Only after a deliberate program of “in-boarding” do our new interns step into the real-time practice of clinical medicine. We hope the new members of our urology family will embrace our sense of mission and values. We hope they will pick up the professionalism of our faculty, staff, and their senior residents and fellows. We hope they will learn the histories of our department and institution and become inspired by those stories. We hope they will learn their craft and become superior in providing our essential deliverable: kind and excellent patient centered care, thoroughly integrated with innovation and education at all levels. The fact is, looking at our finishing chief residents and fellows this year, Michigan urology trainees are superior and we expect them to get even better throughout their careers.
5. While governments, in many nations, have become more representative and recognize that they exist for the people they represent, one unintended, but inevitable consequence is that they become self-righteous. Authority corrupts itself. This happens today no less than it did for any of the Dukes of Berry and their counterparts over the past millennia. We should be wary that self-righteousness of large organizations is a feature of all self-organizing systems. This propensity is seen in the reordering of our haphazard health care system, for example in the ill-conceived HITECH Act that forced the jettisoning of perfectly good electronic medical record systems in favor of a few clunky propriety systems that satisfied arcane details of the law including the mandated “meaningful use.” We also see this in the overwrought “Time-Outs” in the operating rooms that default individual responsibility to a team check-list. (As a pilot in training, when I was a resident, the checklist was the responsibility of the pilot and co-pilot, not a formulaic team exercise of everyone on the airfield.) I thoroughly believe that health care, surgery most especially, is a team activity and that rigid hierarchy is not conducive to a highly performing team. However, rote adherence to a formulaic “Time-Out” for all operative procedures is equally counterproductive. We hope that the next generation of physicians, especially the urologists we educate, will not be taken in by regulatory self-righteousness of third party payers, national professional boards, state boards, and hospital systems so as to believe that the practice of medicine is a checklist, patients are clients, that a patient’s story is a dot phrase or series of templates, and that time-outs do not obviate Murphy’s rule. No check-list or algorithm can substitute for individual sensibility (and anxiety) of the operating surgeon. The formulaic and monitored checklist ritual, in fact, defuses the sensibility. Finally we pray that the ancient Hippocratic idea of listening to and looking at the patient (and the patient’s family) is where medical practice must begin and end – not with the computer and electronic health care record.
6. Visiting professors challenge us with new ideas and perspectives. They offer our residents and fellows a more cosmopolitan view of the world of urology, and visitors take away strong impressions of the Michigan Urology Family. The same happens when we visit other institutions and see how their residents learn. I was recently at the University of Toronto as Bob Jeffs visiting professor at the time for their fellowship graduation and was duly inspired by the faculty, residents, fellows, nurses, and systems that Marty Koyle and his team have developed at Sick Kids’ Hospital. They have some great innovations that might fit us well. The children’s hospital is vibrant, welcoming, and user friendly.
[At Toronto Sick Kids: Kakan Odeh, Keith Lawson, Frank Penna, Paul Bowlin, DAB, Marty Koyle, Joanna Dos Santos]
[Toronto Sick Kids Atrium & lobby from urology & surgery floor]
In Ann Arbor we recently hosted visiting professor Tim O’Brien from Guy’s Hospital in London and he gave a wonderful talk on his work ranging from bladder cancer to retroperitoneal fibrosis. He explained that he has given up doing clinical trials due to the overbearing regulatory paperwork and processes involved in setting them up and implementing them in Great Britain. Tim used a phrase that “the many were controlling the few” in the quagmire of clinical trial regulation. This is the opposite of the Duke de Berry’s situation where the few controlled the many and it begs the question: What is sovereign in a society and what is the source of its laws? It seems right that the people in a society should ultimately be sovereign and that the source of its laws should derive from cosmopolitan human reason and experience. Rules, however, should not be so oppressive as to impede the function and flourishing of the workers. A sheep cannot be sheared well and efficiently by a committee, nor can a bus be driven by a team representing all the diverse interests of the stakeholders of the passengers, neighborhoods of passage, and owners of the bus. Society has to trust its workers to a great extent, knowing that some mistakes will be made and accidents will happen, although minimized by means of education, training, sensible rules, and systems. It seems that clinical trials, and perhaps much of modern medicine driven by HITECH mandates, ICD-10, and other regulatory burdens is not flourishing. Anyway, Tim gave us a terrific visit and showed that we share many regulatory impediments with the U.K.
[David Miller, Tim O’Brien, Kurshid Ghani at Grand Rounds in Sheldon Auditorium]
7. Chief residents’ dinner. Our residents go from newly minted graduates of medical school to skilled genitourinary surgeons and excellent clinicians in a matter of 5 or so years. In that time we, as faculty, work with them initially as teachers, but increasingly as colleagues during the progression of their training. It is said that it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at chess, golf, piloting, piano, or other specific tasks. The evolution of graduate medical education in urology to a 5-year program points to a gestational period of around 20,000 hours to achieve competency as a genitourinary surgeon. Our expectation at Michigan, however, goes beyond mere competency. We have a strong track record of producing not just urologists but the leaders and the best in urology, and this year I believe we did it again. Our yearly graduation dinner (pictured above) for the completing residents and fellows is a signature event in our calendar. We held it at the University of Michigan Art Museum for the first time this year. As intently as we work with our residents throughout the years of their training, the narratives of their lives, as told so excellently this year by their fourth year colleagues, Amy Li, Miriam Hadj-Moussa, and Rebekah Beach offered entirely new perspectives on our chiefs – Noah Canvasser, Casey Dauw, and Joanne Lundgren. We heard “the rest of the story” for these three who have come a long way from novice PGY1s. They have withstood the intense pressures of high-stakes clinical work in the ORs and at the bedsides. They have studied hard to compete in a rarified intellectual environment of high stakes exams. And they have solved problems for patients and eased their anxieties in the high stakes of urological disease and disability. Still, their learning and practice must continue, and the stakes only get greater as our graduates advance in their careers, but they have given us confidence that they will become the leaders and the best of urologists and physicians. Our graduating fellows, a notch higher on the learning ladder, have been equally superb and have now become truly independent: Lindsey Cox, Sara Lenherr, and Paul Womble. The art gallery was an appropriate place to celebrate this milestone with them and their families. The Shirley Chang Gallery in the Art Museum is an especially lovely space to stroll and reflect.
8. The four “Rs.” The world provides as many opportunities to stroll and reflect as individual imaginations allow. A few years ago our friend Bill and Kathleen Turner (Bill was chair at the Medical University of South Carolina as well as Secretary-Treasurer and then President of the American Urological Association) a few years back took us to Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina where a dozen or so Cistercian monks have developed a community with open gates for visitors to come stroll and reflect.
The unofficial motto of the abbey is: read, reflect, respond, and rest. Reading intends the sense of thoughtful examination of the world around us visually, literally, auditorily, and emotionally. You don’t have to go to exotic abbeys and other places to perform the four “Rs.” Here at home you can reflect in places like the Shirley Change Gallery and in May and June, you can wander in the University of Michigan Peony Gardens. These were designed and established in 1922 with many of the original plants donated by William Upjohn, an 1875 graduate of our medical school. The collection consists mainly of one species, Paeonia lactiflora, blooming in pinks, whites, and red. The peony is named after Paeon, a pupil of the Greek god of medicine Asclepius. When the teacher became dangerously jealous as his student began to outshine him, Zeus intervened to save Paeon by turning him into the flower. Thus you might argue that the peony symbolizes education’s ultimate aim – the success of producing students who outshine their teachers. The root of the peony is a common ingredient of traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean medicine. Indiana has made this its state flower.
[Peonies by Chinese artist Yun Shouping, 17th century. Freer Gallery]
[UM Peony Garden, June 7, 2015]
9. Hippocrates allegedly said: Life is short, and Art long; the crisis fleeting; experience perilous, and decision difficult. According to the way I read this enduring aphorism and the way it is punctuated, the fleetingness of life and durability of art are linked as one thought. Life creates art, but art transcends life, and being passed across generations epigenetically, art changes life by enhancing it, inspiring it, or altering its perceptions. My late aunt Evelyn Brodzinski, a painter throughout her life and a student of visual arts, once said in reply to my question as to what, actually, constitutes art “Art is anything that is choice.” In the process of creation, selection, and omission of material and information people produce content that, presumably, had some meaning to the artist. Craving meaning in our lives, we find value in inspecting the visual, literary, or musical content that had meaning for their creators. When we started the Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine in 2007, in honor of the Chang family of artists & urologists, we hoped to offer a yearly lecture that would link the 2 essential human interests of art and medicine in some way. The choices thus made by our lecturers over the years have been amazing, and last year’s lecture by James Ravin, ophthalmologist and author of the book, The Artist’s Eye, was superb. I eagerly anticipate this year’s talk by Pierre Mouriquand who is both a pediatric urologist and an accomplished artist.
The Chang Lecture, targeted to a general audience, has attracted growing number of friends and members of our community. “Public goods” of our university such as the Chang Lecture and the Peony Gardens are part of the social compact between the University of Michigan and its community.
[Top: Chang Lecture 2013; bottom: Hamilton Chang, James Ravin, Dr. Cheng-Yang Chang]
[Tom & Sharon Shumaker, loyal Chang Lecture attendees. Tom passed away in January this year.]
10. Universities are the single institutions of civilization that exist for tomorrow. At the individual level they provide a framework for individuals to find their specific relevance as well as to understand the cosmopolitan nature of the world and their responsibility in it. In the larger perspective they create new knowledge through inquiry and research to provide the ideas and technology of the future. It is no accident that the largest piece of most great universities has become the health care enterprise. This is totally appropriate since health care is a dominant part of the GDP, it ultimately affects everyone, and economically it employs 1 in every 6 citizens. The bedrock of the best medical school departments consists of its faculty and the glue to secure the best of the best is the endowed professorship. Last month we held a lovely ceremony in which we turned over three existing endowed professorships to three faculty members who will carry the names of the professorships along with their titles: Khaled Hafez the George Valassis Professor, Ganesh Palapattu the George and Sandra Valassis Professor, and Julian Wan the Reed Nesbit Professor. They are superb surgeons, noteworthy thinkers, and astute clinicians. The endowed professorships allow them a little independence from the daily pressures of clinical effort and funded research. These three are smart and kind people of the highest order and I’m lucky to call them colleagues and friends. They epitomize the cosmopolitan nature of our department, medical school, and university. Cosmopolitanism is a term I’ve come to appreciate through the work of Kwame Appiah (another author for your reading list!) and it consists of the belief that all of us human beings belong to a single global community with shared values and principles. Julian, Khaled, and Ganesh will be teaching our next generation of physicians and producing useful new knowledge in the milieu of our essential deliverable: kind and excellent clinical care. Someday, their successors – the future Valassis and Nesbit chairs – will be doing the same in the world of tomorrow that we may hardly be able to predict, but that we have thus prepared for amply.
[Julian Wan, Khaled Hafez, Ganesh Palapattu]
Best wishes, and thanks for spending time on “Matula Thoughts.”
David A. Bloom