DAB What’s New October 2, 2015
Change, colors, chloroplasts, mitochondria, & detachment
1. Michigan’s green landscape is changing now that October is here with the deciduous ritual of autumn colors creeping south at the rate of about 200 miles per week. Autumn colors in Ann Arbor, however, are not just botanic. October brings us deep into the heart of football season when maize and blue attract intense scrutiny. Legend has it that a group of Michigan students decided that the school colors should be azure blue and maize, but school officials didn’t make it official until 1912. Curiously the actual shades of maize and blue differ between the University at large and the Athletic Department.
[Above: Fall colors in Ann Arbor. Big House night game from Craig & Sue Sincock’s box. October 11, 2014. Below: UM seal with distinctive azure blue, courtesy Brad Densen]
2. Physicians once paid great attention to the green world, as plants were a prime source of medicines. This changed in the later 19th century, when modern medicine evolved with its verifiable conceptual basis of biochemistry, pathology, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, etc. Before then medications fell into the area of study known as materia medica and botanic knowledge was a necessity for doctors. Leaves are green, by the way, because the dominance of chlorophyll masks out other pigments. As leaves age, green chlorophyll degrades into colorless tetrapyrroles, so that yellow xanthophyll and orange beta-carotene pigments take over visually, although they had been present throughout the leaf life cycle. Red pigments, the anthocyanins, are synthesized de novo as chlorophyll becomes degraded. After the non-green colors show up detachment and recycling of this year’s leaves soon follows.
[Biochemistry refresher: Pyrrole, the five-membered ring shown above (C4H4NH), a colorless volatile liquid, was first detected by F.F. Runge in 1834 as a coal tar derivative. Pyrrole is a component of chlorophyll, other botanic pigments, as well as the red cell porpyrin heme, a co-factor of haemoglobin. Four pyrroles assemble to make up a porphyrin, and these molecules allow numerous color options.]
I happened to see my first leaves of the season fall in early September when I was in Nijmegen, Netherlands at the semi-centennial celebration of the splendid urology unit of Radboud University.
[Above: detachment in Nijmegen 2 weeks ago.
Below: What we look forward to this month: Ann Arbor foliage October 2014.]
3. Change is an apt theme right now as it surely is in the air for health care. Coalescing organizations, new regulations, untried payment systems, intensifying competition, narrow networks, tiered access, new technologies, fantastic and fantastically expensive new drugs, are among the factors behind the unprecedented change. These changes are more than seasonal or market changes and they are putting things that we cherish at risk, namely the three dimensions of academic health care – education, research, and quality clinical care. Clinical care is the primary resource engine for academic health care centers (AMCs). This aspect of our mission is the mitochondria of AMCs, providing not just the context for education and research, but also the bulk of its sustaining funding. Furthermore, clinical care is the moral epi-center and the essential deliverable of AMCs. While American health care is not perfect, it isn’t better in most other places on the globe. Consider the options – in a perfect world how would you manage and fund a piece of society and the economy as necessary, complex, and large as health care? A purely market driven system would leave out a huge chunk of the populace and would not service the interests of the public health at large. Purely governmental systems are perpetually under-resourced, funded at the whim of rotating politicians, bureaucrats, and accountants. Canada, at this moment in time, seems to be the remarkable sole exception to this seemingly natural law. I’ve worked in England’s National Health System (NHS) twice in my life, and am somewhat familiar with its ups and downs, but that natural tendency of impoverished dependence on central governmental funding and accountancy management is inescapable. The NHS was intended to be the exclusive source of health care for the British public, but a growing private sector of health care in the U.K. provides some balance and competition.
4. My friend Karin Muraszko, chair of our Neurosurgery Department, recently gave me a book called Do No Harm by Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon in London. I read it cover-to-cover and thought it remarkable. The value of appropriate and necessary detachment for a surgeon is one of three things that jumped out at me from the book. The second is that natural law I mentioned whereby a national health system budgeted by politicians and managed by accountants does not serve patients, families, health care workers, or other essential stakeholders well, or kindly. The third point is that duty hour restrictions enforced by national agencies (governments, regulatory organizations, professional groups, or payers) are not conducive to professional education, competence, or expertise, much less excellence. The 48-hour work-week for neurosurgical trainees in Europe might be compatible only with a 15-20 year period of training, but not much less. While a few older surgeons like Henry Marsh are still around, and perhaps an occasional excellent new neurosurgeon might emerge miraculously from the sad current European training paradigm, I fear for the next generation of patients with neurosurgical problems on the other side of the Atlantic. Even more frightening is the thought of the subsequent generations of neurosurgeon-educators that will emerge. For them duty hours, accountancy management, and patient “hand-offs” may trump the sense of professionalism and duty they might vaguely recall having seen in the vanishing breed of Henry Marsh.
5. One of the most important rituals of academic medicine is the selection and education of our successors and just now we are in the midst of this with a new cycle of applicant interviews for our residency. Residency training is the career-defining stage of medical education and one could claim it is the signature educational product of an academic health center, usually exceeding (sometimes by more than twice) the time spent in medical school. I don’t think laymen or our central campus friends fully understand this reality. During our residency training at Michigan young physicians learn the state-of the-art clinical skills of urology, its conceptual basis, professionalism, teamwork, and leadership. They develop the habits of lifelong learning and teaching. When I finished training in general surgery at UCLA, I became a member of the Longmire Society, just as our residents in urology at Michigan become members of the Nesbit Society. The Longmire Society certificate includes a motto that features the words: detachment, method, thoroughness, and humility.
These were presumably the ideal characteristics of a Longmire-type surgeon, and indeed suited “the boss” well. Yet the inclusion of detachment as an ideal characteristic puzzled me at first and didn’t seem quite right as it seemed to imply a lack of compassion and empathy, although I’ve since come to understand the importance of detachment with more subtlety. As I write these thoughts the irony of the term “duty hours” strikes me: duty vs. duty hours. Of course, no one can be “on duty” all the time, but people like Henry Marsh, in addition to their sense of necessary detachment, carry their professional duty with them as best they can throughout their careers day-by-day and night-by-night. The on-and-off duty switch is not flicked frequently. Professionalism, nevertheless, carries with it some danger: we become self-righteous in our jobs and professions. We tend to define the limits of our duty more according to the convenience of our job descriptions than by the needs of the public. This does allow us some detachment, but sometimes more for our own sakes than the sake of those among the public who might want our help or kindness.
6. Change is in the air locally at our own academic health care center in Ann Arbor. We are modestly reorganizing our structure and governance, and a new strategic planning process is in play. As Dwight Eisenhower said: “… plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” (Remarks at the National Defense Executive Reserve Conference. 11/14/1957) We urgently need to figure out how to balance our growing patient population with our mission, with our facilities, and with the changing landscape of health care. At the September 17 Regents Meeting changes were made to our organizational structure that should help us build and execute a strategy that fits us well and secures our success in the brave new world of academic health care. Effective January 1, 2016 Marschall Runge, will add the role of medical dean to his position as Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs. David Spahlinger will become president of the clinical enterprise (a new name for this entity is pending; we have been using the term UM Health System) and Executive Vice Dean of the UMMS for Clinical Affairs. New positions will be recruited for a chief academic officer, a chief scientific officer, and a chief information officer for the academic medical center. A chief value improvement officer has been hired by Dr. Runge. Tony Denton will be the Senior Vice President and COO of the clinical enterprise. [Below: Tony & Marschall] Doug Strong, our former CEO of the hospital and most recently VP for Finance & Business of the University will be retiring after a long run of distinguished service.
7. Born on this day in 1832 was Julius von Sachs, in Breslau, Kingdom of Prussia. We might not be inclined to celebrate his name now 183 years later, but we really should. A curious youngster, probably just like you once were, he had an early interest in natural history, which in 19th century Europe and North America was the term used for what today we call science. With a Ph.D. from Charles University in Prague in 1856 he embarked on a career in botany. His academic career took him from Dresden to Bonn to Freiburg and then to the University of Würzburg as chair of botany in 1868 where he spent the rest of his career, contributing greatly to the study of plant physiology. He is credited with the discovery of the chloroplast, a subcellular unit in which the chlorophyll pigment packs energy from sunlight into molecules ATP and NADPH while freeing oxygen and producing carbon dioxide. Like mitochondria, chloroplasts have their own DNA and are believed to have been inherited from an ancient ancestor, a photosynthetic cyanobacterium eaten up by ancient eukaryotic cell that happened to be hungry at a certain lucky moment far back in time. A similar moment of ingestion happened somewhere around then when another hungry cell devoured an organism that turned out to be the ancestor of mitochondria, the internal engine for animal cells. Chloroplasts and mitochondria are the resource engines for all life forms beyond the most primitive ones.
8. I have a friend who sometimes says: “Change is inevitable, but progress is optional.” [On Wikipedia the quote is attributed to Tony Robbins, motivational speaker.] Health systems nationally as well as here locally in Michigan are in the midst of change, but we are hopeful that our local changes, here at least, represent progress. The demand for our clinical services in Ann Arbor is growing. I remember not many years ago our health system clinic visits were well under a million a year and we thought we were busy. Our most recent fiscal year (FY 15) produced 2,123,746 visits – representing a 6.1% increase just over the previous year, of which return visits constituted 4.7% and new patients were up 15.3%. The pressure on our exam rooms, faculty, staff, operating rooms, and hospital beds has been painful. We need to manage our health care enterprise better to fulfill the expectations of patients and our community, as well as to enhance our educational and research missions. This cannot be viewed from an accounting mentality as a zero sum game with one mission at the expense of another, but rather as a synergistic triad, with the clinical mission as the moral center, the context for education and research, as well as the prime economic engine.
9. My first box of crayons when I was a toddler offered a half dozen colors and I didn’t notice or imagine at the time that many more colors could exist. If you glance quickly at a rainbow or the light from a prism that’s not such a naïve belief.
[Reflection from a glass door on the floor of my in-law’s house in Waterloo, Iowa. Summer 2015]
However, over time in childhood my crayon boxes got larger with many more colors than I could have imagined. A 64 pack of crayons was astonishing discovery for me.
Nowadays, kids on their iPads can sort through literally thousands of colors. This in turn should be no surprise because on inspection the spectrum of light is not an array of discrete quanta of color variations (at least, not that we know!) – it is in reality a spectrum. This increasing complexity derived from our attention is matched throughout the world today in the increasing number of cable TV channels, the proliferation of presidential candidates, the growing number of health care specialties and focused areas of medical practice, the 10-fold increase medical diagnostic codes effective this year (ICD-10), expanding sectarian conflicts, and gargantuan expansion of worldwide refugees.
10. The 50th anniversary of Nijmegen Urology was a wonderful celebration they shared with international guests from Japan to Italy to Ann Arbor. It gave me some ideas about the upcoming anniversary of Michigan Academic Urology in 2019. My inclusion in Nijmegen was due to the luck of having Wouter Feitz, their chief pediatric urologist, spend three months with us in Ann Arbor many years ago. Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands, is situated on the nation’s eastern edge, next to the German border. Radboud Medical University contains a superb urologic unit that happens to be an epicenter of European Urology politically as well as geographically. There, under Frans Debruyne, the European Association of Urology got its start and now, headed by Peter Mulders, the urology unit continues to excel.
[Past & present chairs of Nijmegen Urology. Above: Frans Debruyne. Below: Peter & Cindy Mulders]
The innovative academic celebration was focused around specific patients in the various domains of urology and yet it explored the cutting edges of discovery and therapy. Our pediatric session featured the faculty at Radboud, Wouter Feitz, Barbara Kortmann, Robert De Gier, and Ivo De Blaauw, with Raimund Stein of Mainz and Mannheim along with myself as guests.
[Above: Raimund, Marie Jose & Wout Feitz. Below: Barbara & Robert]
Since our session was on the opening day of the meeting, Wout and I skipped the second day to visit the Mauritius Museum in The Hague, on the western edge of the “Low Country.” The newly restored museum, a lovely historic house in the midst of the complex of government buildings known as the Binnenhof, houses Rembrandt’s great Anatomy Lesson of Nicholas Tulp [below], Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring, and The Goldfinch by Fabritius. These great works and others compel thoughtful attention.
Every year on the third Tuesday of September, which occurred the following week in the nearby Ridderzaal (Great Hall), the King delivers The Speech from the Throne. Wout and I happened to walk by after the room was set up for the event and on public display.
This Dutch tradition is mirrored in the State of the Union address in the United States, and in the annual State of the Medical School speech at our local level in Ann Arbor. Jim Woolliscroft (seen below), our medical school dean performed this task admirably for nearly a decade, just as Allen Lichter had done as our previous dean. Both were great leaders, colleagues, physicians, and educators. They have my greatest admiration for their work in guiding the UMMS through challenging times. Marschall Runge is amply up to the task for our next big steps as an academic health care enterprise in the new combined role.
The trees in the Netherlands during my recent visit had just a few patches of autumn colors, although some leaves had already changed enough to detach and fall.
[Above: tree with patch of yellow. Below: early leaves on the ground near Binnenhof]
From the air as I left the Netherlands the long-lasting and combined effects of those primeval cellular meals of chloroplasts and mitochondria were in full display on the ground below. The green landscape is an obvious credit to the chloroplasts, however the fact that a large percentage of the land, although actually below sea level, is now dry land must be attributed to mitochondrial life forms, especially ours. Thanks to human ingenuity and industry 17% of the Netherlands surface area has been reclaimed from the sea and only 50% of the country’s land is over a meter above sea level. Out of my view from the air and during my brief visit to Holland was the immediate staggering refugee crisis, in Europe below and the world at large. A recent JAMA viewpoint from the UN High Commissioner’s Office on the state of the world’s refugees is worth reading [Spiegel. JAMA 314:445] The UN Refugee Agency counts 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at this date and half of them are children. This situation must be charged to the mitochondrial side of the Earth’s ledger and those sorry stories of our failures as a species continue to reshape the planet.
[Syrian toddler – heartbreaking picture from last month’s news compelling our attention or detachment]
Postscript. It’s been a busy month academically and just last week I had the honor of being the Lloyd Visiting Professor in Portland, Oregon as a guest of Steve Skoog, John Barry, and Chris Amling. It is a great, storied department and excellent residents presented complex cases. I was mercifully given most of Friday morning off, allowing me to watch the televised visit of Pope Francis to the September 11 Memorial in NYC. The interfaith prayer service was remarkable with its rich array of colors and beliefs, connected by a shared overarching faith in mankind. The Pope’s presence and his comments offer inspiring counterbalance to the sobering image above and destruction memorialized at the Twin Towers sites. The multicultural colors assembled at that prayer service, symbolizing the rich potential of mitochondrial life and humankind, are the most impressive colors of this autumn.
Thanks for reading What’s New, a posting from the University of Michigan Department of Urology, and Matula Thoughts, its blog version (matulathoughts.org). More on the department can also be found at: medicine.umich.edu/dept/urology.
David A. Bloom