DAB Matula Thoughts Nov 4, 2016


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3975 words

Preface. This monthly communication from the University of Michigan Department of Urology & David A. Bloom is usually sent by email or posted on line at on the first Friday of each month.



Autumn has been spectacular at Michigan Urology academically and around Ann Arbor visually. Seasonal changes on the Huron River were up to high expectations as leaves colored out and birds headed south. You don’t have to travel far outside of town to see crop harvesting has wound down, while distracting political signs along the roads are highlighting our national political schizophrenia. [Above: Huron River near Wagner Road. Below: Waterloo Road east of Chelsea, Michigan]



Nestled in the Midwest, we were spared Hurricane Matthew that hit Haiti, Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas in October. The biggest regional surprise was the overtime World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians, both teams having contested well. Births and other happy events also perked up this season, but we suffered losses. Madeline Horton, secretary of Jack Lapides and mother of Suzanne Van Appledorn (wife of Carl Van Appledorn, Nesbit 1972) passed away last month a few weeks short of her 100th birthday. Madeline was our urology librarian, a job largely obviated by the internet. I fondly remember her gracious welcome when I joined the University of Michigan Section of Urology in the early years of Ed McGuire’s leadership.

Final rules for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) went into effect last month, instituting the Quality Payment Program (QPP) that begins its first performance period 58 days from now, by my count. This will significantly change the basis of physician payment and the rules are entrenched so deeply in federal regulation as to be practically bullet-proof from the impending presidential election or other short-term political processes. By November, it is pretty clear that another calendar year is coming to an end and it’s time to start serious planning for next year. Of course as a department of urology specifically, and as a large academic health center more generally, our planning has been on going in earnest for considerably longer than the past few days. Emerging out of many years of restricted capital investment in facilities and regional relationships we are in an unprecedented growth mode to more optimally fulfill our mission. This has been the first year of our new organizational paradigm for the University of Michigan Health System in which Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs of the University, Marschall Runge, added the Medical School deanship to his portfolio. A Health System Board along with Health System President, David Spahlinger, will manage the growing enterprise of hospital groups, medical practice, ambulatory clinics, regional affiliations, and other entities that have evolved to carry out our mission. These are good structural changes and superb individuals for the challenges ahead.

Our mission derives from our foundation as a public medical school in 1850 and is similar to the mission of all other medical schools, although the University of Michigan has long described itself as one of the “leaders and best”, a phrase that history shows we can rightly claim, for the most part. The mission is framed around three components – education, patient care, and research – deployed in that order as our medical school grew, adding its own contained hospital in 1869 and soon thereafter some of the world’s definitive basic science departments and research laboratories.




Silos of expertise necessarily accrued as the medical school and health care center in Ann Arbor grew more complex with the result that the overall management became increasingly disconnected from the loci of expertise at its many workplaces. The gemba, a Japanese term related to the Lean Process Methodology of the Toyota Corporation, describes where work is performed – the workplace. As Toyota, and later Detroit automotive manufacturing came to understand, microeconomic gembas understand their products, customers, and processes better than higher-level managers or accountants. Process improvement, value creation, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction are best arbitrated “where the work is done” (i.e. the gemba) rather than in distant offices by managerial accounting.

Oddly, just as forward-thinking western businesses are embracing lean process thinking, large health care systems and governmental organizations are more rigidly holding on to managerial accountancy with its concomitant archipelago of cost centers. Of course any organization needs to understand and mitigate its costs, but lean process experience has shown that efficiency and value are a natural result of letting the gemba work as an organic community, rather than forcing its functions by the levers of managerial accounting. [Below: going home from work, a Diego Rivera mural detail – Detroit Institute of Arts]


Anyway, back to the triple mission: the University of Michigan Health System exists to educate the next generation of physicians and scientists, to expand the knowledge and technology base of health care, and to do these things in a milieu of cutting edge clinical care. The central organizing principle at play, that is the essential deliverable (and moral center) is kind and excellent patient-centered care, as we describe it in our department.

The future in healthcare will depend on our ability to weave silos together and innovate, creating new ideas, devices, and methods. In a larger sense innovation is the ability to find better solutions for the needs of a changing environment.




Leadership.  A recurring aspiration of the University of Michigan is that it produces the “leaders and the best.” That phrase is functionally adjectival as with the leaders and the best engineers, teachers, athletes, lawyers, nurses, chemists, or physicians, for example. The leaders and best is less meaningful as a noun, for what does it really mean to be “the best” if not the best of some particular thing. The same holds true for leadership, in my opinion. The aspiration to be “a leader” as a generality carries a bit of a selfish sense with it, whereas the aspiration to lead one’s team to do its job well or otherwise fulfill its mission is more socially virtuous. The difference is perhaps one between the captain of a football team versus travelling CEO’s who jump among companies to exercise their managerial or accounting gifts. Without deep knowledge and investment in a particular organization, an itinerant leader is unlikely to inspire most organizations and its people to achieve their best social destiny. Another way to look at this is whether the leader’s primary goal is to be “the boss” by leading, managing, and controlling employees to achieve organizational targets, in contrast to a goal of helping the organization achieve an optimal state for its stakeholders.

What does a urology department need in a leader? I submit that first and foremost it needs someone who loves and practices urology robustly; former dean Allen Lichter once said  – “for such a person patient care is a moral imperative, not something that is important enough unless it interferes with research.” Second, a clinical department needs an individual who understands the organizational mission and its history – these two things are inseparable, requiring more than just lip service to be truly known. Third, we require someone whom the faculty, residents, staff, and other stakeholders trust. Fourth, the department needs a person who can read the changing environment and find opportunities within it. Other attributes may be valued according to the specifics of each department, institution and moment in time, however “celebrity leadership” by itself should not be high on the list of qualities sought.





Until it fails, people don’t appreciate the beauty of a competent urinary system. Urologists are the essential attendants at that particular service station of life, but the necessity of professional detachment renders us susceptible to underestimating the angst and vulnerability of urologic patients. Finding the right balance between empathy and detachment is a personal matter, arbitrated by daily experience to the extent that we are influenced by our medical practices, role models (real and fictional), and general observations in life. To the extent that we pay attention to the real world around us and to the creative arts, we improve our practice of medicine.

Creative arts matter to medicine. The portrait of Dr. John Sassall by Berger & Mohr in A Fortunate Man, was an artful mix of empathy and detachment. The doctor had sufficient detachment to do what he needed medically for his patients, but retained unusual empathy for their social and economic comorbidities, even to his personal detriment.

In the visual arts for hundreds of years urinalysis, depicted by uroscopy flask (the matula), was the main symbol of medicine indicating the central importance of urine examination to understand disease. After 1816, when Laennec invented the stethoscope, the matula lost its place as the popular symbol of the medical profession. The stethoscope is certainly a less indelicate and a sturdier symbol than a glass urine flask. Imagine Gray’s Anatomy with the matula.

In literature Shakespeare was precocious in recognizing the fallacy of mistaking a clinical test for the actual patient when in this scene from Henry IV Falstaff asks a messenger what the physician thought of his uroscopy specimen:

“Sirrah, What says the doctor to my water?

He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water;

But for the party that owned it, he might have more diseases than he knew for.”

Visual art has only rarely portrayed urinary function. One example, the statue Manneken Pis (Little Man Pee, in Dutch. Above: Wikipedia illustration) designed by Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder around 1618-1619 has been stolen numerous times and the current version, dating from 1965, stands in Brussels. It is dressed in costumes according to a published schedule managed by “Friends of Manneken-Pis,” but I don’t know if University of Michigan colors have adorned it yet. Other versions of the statue exist regionally and in more distant sites in the world. Notice the arching back of the confident lad making his momentary mark on the world in front of him.

Depiction of urinary tract dysfunction in art is even less common than that of normal function. As common as dysuria and stranguria are for us humans, it’s rare to find them represented in the creative world. The Wayfarer, by Bosch, shows a man with the hunched-over posture typical of urinary distress, relegated to the central background of this curious painting. The painter, who died 500 years ago, lived in the historic low countries now called the Netherlands where he no doubt observed that characteristic posture often, as we do today in restrooms around the world.


[Hieronymus Bosch. Above: The Wayfarer. Below: voiding detail.]


The impact of nocturnal enuresis showed up in All’s Quiet on the Western Front, where a young soldier suffered with that burden.

My point is that creative arts sharpen our perception and groom our mirror neurons to make us better attendants at life’s service stations.



Castling. A few months ago this column referred to Richard Feynman’s metaphor related to mankind’s persistent search for central organizing principles, namely our curiosity to discover rules that govern the universe. He noted that, as we observe the “chess game of the world” and try to figure out how it works, every now and then “something like castling” occurs and blows our minds. That particular chess move is so far out of the box with respect to the other orderly rules and procedures of the game that it is, indeed, something of a miracle in that environment. (For chess aficionados the term rook may be preferable to castle, although castling sounds more appealing than rooking.)


It is human nature to seek rules. Prehistoric tribal priests, Ionian philosophers such as Aristotle, and recent scientists such as Feynman sought central organizing principles and rules. Unlike the explanations of the village priests, today’s principles of math, physics, chemistry, and biology are testable and verifiable or refutable. We have some ideas of why and how inorganic material things need to flow or seek equilibrium – principles of physics and chemistry govern their existence and fate. It is more of a mystery why biological things need to grow and humans, in particular, need to know things. No one has figured out, without invoking magical or religious paradigms, why our particulate niche in the universe is such as exception to what we perceive as the second law of thermodynamics. Perhaps our material, biological, and intellectual exception to the expanding and entropy-seeking universe is that strange miracle of “castling.” Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band expressed it more poetically in the 1980 song Against the Wind.


[Cosmic castling. Copper River. Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Summer 2015]




It may seem an overstatement of human optimism to believe in the principle that the world you imagine is the world you are most likely to create, but a single person can have remarkable impact; Joan of Arc, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi are just a few examples. The impact of a single person, just as likely, can be darkly retrograde and numerous examples quickly come to mind.

Scientific thinking and modern technology have given mankind unprecedented tools to change the world with Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs as two of a myriad of other players. If you imagine a kind and just world, you will likely try to live by and spread those attributes. If you imagine a dog-eat-dog world and display that vision to those around you, that may likely become the reality you experience and leave behind. The possibility that a given leader can be good or bad for humanity might appear statistically random, that is stochastic, in terms of probability. On the other hand, if we carry the theme of castling to the idiosyncratic human experiment, it may not be so far-fetched to suggest that our genetic and epigenetic construction has built in a predilection to favor good over evil, making an individual more inclined to do the “right” rather than “wrong” thing at a given moment. That is, the elements leading up to a given personal decision are built upon individual upbringing, world-view, personal needs, perceived needs of our clan, and hope for the future. Adding all these elements, our prevailing human nature favors doing good, in the stoichiometric sense, most of the time.




Where American health care will go next is unclear, no matter how the presidential election turns out next week. Problems abound in health care. The interface between patient and provider filling up with busy work and costs that distract from quality, safety, value, or satisfaction. Third party payers, regulators, public policy (even if well-intentioned) add an immense amount of “stuff” to be done before, during, and after the so-called patient encounter. While we prize innovation and the rewards of a free society, egregious exploitation of American healthcare consumers by industry seems to be getting worse and fuels demands for significant change. The EpiPen disgrace from the Pennsylvania company Mylan is only one of the many recent examples of human elements gone bad [JAMA 316:1439, 2016]. Why call out that one bad example among so many? My reason is simply that Mylan has made themselves such an easy target because they have been so sociopathically greedy.

Our urology silo has been a good one locally and internationally, by and large. This is evident now in the midst of the residency selection process wherein we advocate for our particular training program in Ann Arbor, our specialty having attracted many of the best and brightest of this year’s senior medical students. My colleague and friend Mike Mitchell once called urology (pediatric urology, in particular) “a lovely specialty.” We practice at the cutting edge of technology, we improve patient lives, we fix things that are broken, we have the gift of long relationships with patients, and we generally get along well within our professional arena. As a medical student and resident myself, years ago, the attributes and role models of urology attracted me into the field – and these features of our profession continue to attract the superb students and residents to follow us.

Healthcare is changing and the urology of tomorrow will differ from what I experienced in my career. We have already transitioned from roles as independent urologists such as that of our predecessors Hugh Cabot, Reed Nesbit, and Jack Lapides. Our work to educate, treat patients, and expand the knowledge base of urology requires subspecialization and teams, large teams that transcend clinics, offices, department, and operating rooms. The complexity of science, technology, and healthcare delivery made this change inevitable, with marketplace pressures and regulatory actions accelerating change. The fee-for-service that largely defined health care over the past century is being rapidly displaced by alternate payment methodology, with a sharp focus on value and performance in play today. These were vague terms in health care until recently. Value and performance metrics in other endeavors have achieved growing visibility, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find them crossing over into health care. Michael Lewis’s Moneyball brought these terms to popular attention for baseball in 2014, with the movie in 2011, and healthcare was bound to follow. No doubt some sense of player value governed Theo Epstein in breaking the curses of the Red Sock and Chicago Cubs with their World Series droughts of 86 and 108 years, although it’s unlikely he discovered a novel set of useful metrics.




Value & performance. A paper in JAMA last month demands attention. Vivian Lee et al from the University of Utah offered an original investigation with the lengthy title “Implementation of a value-driven outcomes program to identify high variability in clinical costs and outcomes and association with reduced cost and improved quality.” [JAMA 2016; 316(10): 1061-1072] A matching opinion piece in the same issue by Michael Porter and Thomas Lee offered glowing support: “From volume to value in health care”. [JAMA 2016; 316 (10): 1047-1048] While it is clear that value and performance measures will be tools to replace the American fee-for-service paradigm, the details in the Utah study are important, in particular the idea of an “opportunity index” that allows healthcare teams to understand their costs and develop lean processes that improve not just costs, but also quality, safety, and that once-vague attribute value. If leading health care centers believe in a world of value-based healthcare, such a world surely can be created. That world, however, will largely be built on the special skills of specialties and the complex teams of future medicine, wherein urologists with their singular skill sets that will likely always be prized.




Stainless steel, eggs, & sperm. Innovation is a fundamental characteristic of biology, and randomness is always in play. At the cellular level we see innovation from the random errors of genetic transcription and the utilitarian retention of the changes in these DNA sequences when they provide a particular advantage, so one could argue that random chance lies behind all things that happen. Choice, however, somehow slips into play with life. Even low levels of cellular organization make choices and, by extension purposefully innovate in their lives. Nematodes (round worms) and flatworms, such as C. elegans and planaria, seek comfort and food as they move above their microcosms to discover opportunities or deterrents. Their actions are purposeful with deliberate directional choices as opposed to random Brownian motion. Each move is original in its own way, exploring new territory or retreating from threats. In the larger animal kingdom we see choice in behaviors of vertebrates, and hominids have taken choice and innovation to entirely new levels.

One hundred years ago Harry Brearley figured out a way to improve the quality and value of gun barrels. Gun performance deteriorated quickly after use because of barrel corrosion from moisture and gases after combustion, so Brearley considered variety of additives to create steel alloys with better resistance and found chromium most effective. This was already being used in the manufacture of steel for airplane engines, but one particular variant alloy had been difficult to examine microscopically because the etching processes used to prepare the samples for examination were far less effective than usual. The corrosion resistance problem for engine manufacturing proved to be a solution for gunsmiths.

Human innovation continues to advance even more remarkably. At our recent Nesbit meeting, Sherman Silber (Nesbit 1973) presented innovative work in reproductive medicine showing how pluripotent stem cells derived from skin cells can create eggs and sperm with full reproductive potential in normal mice.





Silos. Silos are disparaged glibly in modern organizational discourse, but we owe them better appreciation. Some silos are storage vaults for coal, cement, or salt while others are biologic factories. Grain elevators, for example, store and ferment grain to produce silage for animal feed. Early farmers figured this out, probably noticing it by accident. After harvesting, clover, alfalfa, oats, rye, maize, or ordinary grasses are compressed in a closed space and after a brief aerobic phase, when trapped oxygen is consumed, anaerobic fermentation by desirable lactic acid bacteria begins to convert sugars to acids. Volatile fatty acids (acetic, lactic, butyric) are natural preservatives, lowering pH and creating a hostile environment for competing bacteria. Some microorganisms in the process produce vitamins such as folic acid or B12. Ever since the early days of farming indigenous microorganisms conducted successful fermentation, although modern farms utilize select strains of lactic acid bacteria or other microorganisms more efficiently. Because fermentation produces products that bacteria consume silage has less caloric content than the original forage, but the tradeoff is worthwhile due to the preservation and improved digestibility.

Thinking about silos, it seemed natural to take a trip to Chelsea, Michigan where the family-operated Chelsea Milling Company has been making baking mixes since 1930. Mabel White Holmes created the first prepared baking mix in the United States and her grandson, Howdy Holmes, presently runs this company of 300 employees producing 1.6 million boxes of products daily. Mabel White Holmes originally marketed her biscuit mix as “so easy even a man could do it” and Jiffy Mix with its memorable blue logo became one of America’s classic brands. Chelsea Milling makes and markets 19 mixes distributed to all 50 states and 32 countries. The Jiffy Mix corporate philosophy is employee-centric, much like Zingerman’s Community of Businesses and (we believe) the Department of Urology at the University of Michigan in the recognition of how silos build a community. The Jiffy Mix silos provide dry storage for wheat, while the people that work at the company provide the fermentation that makes and innovates superior products within a lean culture of thoughtful communication and collaborative decision-making. This is biologic castling.


[Next occupant?]

Whether for storage of salt or biofactories for silage, silos are ultimately useful only when working together as parts of farms and communities. This an analogy holds true in the political arena, where consensus is as important as victory. Our national and international communities suffer from self-righteous siloism. Current political rhetoric lacks dignity and respect to the point of ugliness, although the most corrosive disrespect is the a priori claim that the American political system is rigged, whether by one party, the media, or another nation. It is nonsense to be outraged that other countries are into our emails and elections – that’s exactly what we do as a nation and indeed it is the business of large nations to gather intelligence on competitors and get a thumb on the scales when possible. If our candidates say foolish things and our firewalls are weak then we should own the blame. With 4 days to our next national elections, this incivility of discourse is a short slippery slope to civil instability, which will not be good for anyone. The effect on healthcare will consequential and international scientific media as influential as The Lancet have taken the unprecedented step of hosting a US Election 2016 website:  Aside from parochial concerns such as healthcare, ultimately what will matter most for all of us on the planet after November 8 will be financial market and geopolitical stability – all other concerns pale in comparison.


[October driveway]


David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Matula Thoughts October 7, 2016

DAB What’s New Oct 7, 2016


Education, errors, & box scores

3931 words


One.               Autumn is academic medicine’s high season.  With summer officially over the serious work is well underway for faculty promotions, graduate medical education (GME) in academic centers, and continuing medical education in professional meetings. Residency interviews are beginning. Coincidentally, this is also the definitive season for baseball as major league teams compete for its World Series. [Above: San Francisco Giants 6 – St. Louis Cardinals 2. Sept 15, 2016. Cueto pitching.]

With participants notching up their games, rookie mistakes become occasional, although errors never totally go away.  Performance measurements allow individuals to understand and improve their work, while inviting inevitable comparisons. Fielders in baseball, for example, are judged by errors: the number of times they fail to complete plays that could have been made by common effort, a term roughly equivalent to the reasonable and standard practice by which physicians are judged.


[Derek Jeter, Yankee shortstop. 8/24/08. Photographer Keith Allison]

It may seem awkward for physicians to talk of mistakes, however these conversations are not only necessary, but also healthy when done properly. We formalize these conversations in morbidity and mortality (M&M) conferences. Fortunately, most errors are minor if not trivial and are intrinsic to all biologic behaviors, indeed species variation itself is built on error. Health care cannot be expected to be exempt from error, for who among us has not missed a blood draw or an IV placement on first puncture? Who has not made a transcription error when typing an entry into today’s electronic medical record systems. (When I trained to become a surgeon, typing skills were not a required skill set; today many surgeons spend nearly as much time typing as operating – surely an epic waste of health care resources.) On the other hand, serious complications such as postoperative bleeding, deep venous thromboses, anastomotic leaks, or missed relevant comorbidities, bear inspections that should inspire personal and systemic improvements to minimize errors for future patients. While we take errors very seriously, we can’t let them disable us, for the next patient is always in line.

The point to make is that the conversation of error in health care is essential. The practice of medicine is, indeed, a practice and things that don’t turn out as intended need to be investigated to improve quality of practice. Charles Bosk’s 1979 book, Forgive and Remember, is a classic starting point. You can get a good summary of it in Robin Williamson’s review of its 2003 edition [J. Royal Society of Medicine. 2004 Mar; 97(3): 147-148]. While surgical fields have a long history of tough treatment of trainees, surgical training today (GME) is far less recriminating when errors are the result of earnest effort. [Below: Ed McGuire lecturing as emeritus professor to residents last year.]


Two.           An astonishing array of events emblematic of our three-way mission initiated the 2016 academic high season of urology in Ann Arbor.

Inspiring Discovery was a celebration at North Campus Research Center focusing on partnerships with donors that fuel education and research. Tom Varbedian, distinguished Michigan alumnus, friend of our department, and retired ophthalmologist was among those honored, in his instance for support of medical students. He has funded 14 students over the years and 4 “Varbedian scholars” are presently here in medical school. [Below: Tom and some of his students]


The evening was rich in meaningful stories of partnerships between donors and faculty to grow the conceptual basis and technology of health care while educating the next generation. Endowments are the key strength of Michigan’s future as a great academic medical center.

Dow Division Health Services Research Symposium targeted the topic of performance. The program by Jim Dupree, Khurshid Ghani, and Chad Ellimoottil featured our own and other world-wide experts who investigate and innovate health care delivery. This third biennial meeting included around 200 attendees.


Jerry Weisbach Lectureship last month brought Martin Gleave from Vancouver, BC to discuss his extraordinary work co-targeting the androgen receptor and adaptive survival pathways in advanced prostate cancer.

Nesbit alumni weekend featured Freddie Hamdy from Oxford University describing his unique randomized trial of active monitoring, radical prostatectomy, and radiotherapy for localized prostate cancer. Two NEJM papers from his group last month attracted international attention and Freddie’s talk to us was the first public presentation. At the cutting edge of reproductive medicine, Sherman Silber explained how the Y-chromosome is becoming redundant in the light of the incredible accomplishment of creating sperm and ova from skin fibroblasts. Many other talks filled the program. We were honored to have senior urologists Cheng-Yang Chang, Clair Cox, and Mark McQuiggan in the audience. Cheryl Lee (Chair at OSU) and Stu Wolf (Associate Dean at Austin’s Dell SOM) were honored at our alumni dinner and John Park won the John Konnak award for service to our department. A lively Nesbit tailgate party preceded the Wisconsin football game.


[Above: Freddie Hamdy presents results of prostate cancer trial. Below: Freddie Hamdy, Marschall Runge, Sherman Silber, Jim Monte & Nesbit attendees]


After the Nesbit tailgate we saw Michigan edge Wisconsin out 14-7. Next year’s Nesbit alumni reunion will align with the Air Force Academy game here in Ann Arbor.


[Clair & Clarice Cox tailgating]

The Montie Visiting Professor was Ian Thompson, Jr.,  Director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center of the University of Texas in San Antonio. Ian (below) spent childhood years (1956-59) in Ann Arbor when his father was on the Michigan urology faculty. A West Point graduate, Ian became Colonel in the U.S. Army and chair of urology at University of Texas San Antonio. He is President of the American Board of Urology. He spoke to us on the future of prostate cancer detection and therapy, and heard superb presentations from our residents and fellows.


[Ian Thompson, Jim Montie]

This past month has been rich in education. Although these costly events interrupt the clinical work that supplies their main funding, they are educationally essential and important for quality improvement and team alignment. Quality of care is improved by expanding the conceptual basis of medical practice, clinical skills and professionalism of the workforce, and delivery systems. Alignment of healthcare workers is critical to their success in teams. In the face of new technology, new diseases, and a changing socio-economic-political environment these educational efforts cannot be sacrificed to clinical throughput.

Three.           The attendant at the gas station of life was a picturesque metaphor of Dr. Horace Davenport as he taught first year physiology to medical students here in Ann Arbor in the later 20th century (re-quoted by us in July What’s New and Matula Thoughts). The actuality of a physician’s role is more complex, as Dr. Davenport well knew, and the irony of his specific term attendant in the midst of an academic medical center full of attendings was probably intentional. (Another irony is that today’s gas stations, in contrast to those of Davenport’s time, are mostly self-service).

A physician is better understood from the neuroscience perspective with respect to mirror neurons. Humans are not unique in having these sophisticated forms of quorum sensors that facilitate empathy, a phenomenon seen in certain other biologic species such as crows, elephants, and of course fellow primates. Humans, however, have tools, skills, and systems that allow highly developed ways to operationalize empathy.

Physicians can no longer speak so territorially about their roles because health care is provided as significantly by nurses, physician assistants, and other advanced practice providers (APPs). The awkward term health care provider has crept into general use, and while downplaying the physician as a professional, the new terminology is necessary in the team play of modern healthcare. Regulatory and corporate forces reduce health care services to commodity encounters that match diagnostic codes to treatment codes. Many encounters can be delegated to APPs working at high ends of their scopes of practice. While vaccinations, dental cleaning, and sports physicals can readily be commoditized, whether routine “well patient” check ups or visits for uncharacterized problems can be similarly commoditized in 15 to 30-minute encounters remains to be seen. Some patients need the magic of attention and intuition from a health care professional that is not readily translated to check lists or passed down the ladder of expertise.

Effective attendants at life’s service stations hone their skills to observe and listen carefully while practicing their craft. In the process of listening and observing they need not only determine a patient’s diagnosis and an attendant treatment (ICD 10 and corresponding CPT codes), but also must discover relevant issues of the context of that person’s life in terms of livelihood, family, neighborhood, or socioeconomic condition. Context amplifies or minimizes any diagnosis and therapy. Without understanding the patient’s life story, that is the ultimate co-morbidities, an actual encounter in the office may have little value to the patient. All this is to say that effective attendants (physician, medical assistant, nurse, advanced practice provider, etc.) must seek to understand the patient as fully as possible, although such understanding is illusive and always incomplete.

Four.              Rabbit holes in time.   An article earlier this year in The Lancet by Kingshuk Pal, “Could you wait a second,” described a clinic visit with a woman in her mid-thirties. The encounter was allocated for a mere 10 minutes in his National Health Service (NHS) clinic in London, and in spite of an earlier add-on patient Pal was back on time for the last patient of the morning. He assumed the visit would be a simple encounter for a prescription, and indeed things started out that way. In fact, Pal had seen the same lady in brief encounters twice before and his colleagues had seen her other times as well to write prescriptions after going through standardized template checklists. However, Pal noted:

“But things didn’t feel quite right. I interrupted my internal monologue to go back over what she had just said … There was something about the vehemence with which she had expressed herself that jarred.”

Follow-up questions led into a “rabbit hole” that revealed an unexpected terrible social situation of an abusive marriage. Pal called in appropriate support services and eventually the lady became able to take control of her life. The missed opportunities to uncover the critical social comorbidity (spousal abuse) that was the basis of all of the previous encounters with the well-intended NHS physicians surely would be considered errors in other occupations. Pal commented on earlier missed opportunities to rescue the patient:

“… each time we had stuck to our templates. We were focused on her medical needs. We had listened to what she said, but not what she meant. What had been left unsaid was how much she needed kindness, sympathy, and patience. For me to give her a few seconds of my silence so that she could finally break hers. I know if I had been busy, it would have seemed like that would take forever. But the passage of time is a peculiar thing. As strange as in a consultation as it is in Wonderland:

Alice: ‘How long is forever?’

White Rabbit: ‘Sometimes, just one second.” [The Lancet. 387:1900-1901, 2016]

Five.               Attending at the station. John Berger’s factual description of a rural English general practitioner in the 1960s is an understated gem of medical literature. Berger and photographer Jean Mohr spent six weeks with the doctor. More than shadowing him, they embedded in his practice, living with him and his wife in St. Briavels in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. The physician, John Eskell, was named John Sassall for the book, A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, although accounts of patients and the community were otherwise factual. Berger and Mohr observed Eskell/Sassall in his clinic (called the surgery) and dispensary, as well as on his house calls.


This somber book has underlying themes of optimism in human kindness, meaning, and extraordinary curiosity that some people, such as Eskell possess. Berger explains how the morbidity and comorbidities of patients became the personal burden of Eskell.

“I said that the price which Sassall pays for the achievement of his somewhat special position is that he has to face more nakedly than many other doctors the suffering of his patients and the sense of his own inadequacy. I want now to examine his sense of inadequacy.

There are occasions when any doctor may feel helpless: faced with a tragic incurable disease; faced with obstinacy and prejudice maintaining the very condition which has created the illness or unhappiness; faced with certain housing conditions; faced with poverty.

On most occasions Sassall is better placed than the average. He cannot cure the incurable. But because of his comparative intimacy with patients, and because the relations of a patient are also likely to be his patients, he is well-placed to challenge family obstinacy and prejudice. Likewise, because of the hegemony he enjoys within his district, his views tend to carry weight with housing committees, national assistance officers, etc. He can intercede for his patients on both a personal and bureaucratic level.”

Six.                 Personalized medicine. Comorbidities unquestionably impact illness, and without understanding them in at least some depth, physicians can hardly claim to deal out meaningful advice and therapy. Today we confuse recognition of comorbidities, by our ability to list billing codes, with actual understanding of comorbidity relevance and impact. Prominent in Sassall’s example is the matter of who he is outside the clinic and dispensary. He represents something positive in the community and accordingly he is not quite free to live a life that doesn’t impact favorably on him, his environment, or his profession. He accepted that “trade-off” when he accepted his role as a physician. Berger continues his explanation.

“He is probably more aware of making mistakes in diagnosis and treatment than most doctors. This is not because he makes more mistakes, but because he counts as mistakes what many doctors would – perhaps justifiably – call unfortunate complications. However, to balance such self-criticism he has the satisfaction of his reputation which brings him ‘difficult’ cases from far outside his own area. He suffers the doubts and enjoys the reputation of a professional idealist.

Yet his sense of inadequacy does not arise from this – although it may sometimes be prompted by an exaggerated sense of failure concerning a particular case. His sense of inadequacy is larger than the professional.

Do his patients deserve the lives they lead, or do they deserve better? Are they what they could be or are they suffering continual diminution? Do they ever have the opportunity to develop the potentialities which he has observed in them at certain moments? Are there not some who secretly wish to live in a sense that is impossible given the conditions of their actual lives? And facing this impossibility do they not then secretly wish to die?”  [Berger. A Fortunate Man. 1967. Vintage International Edition 1997. p. 132-133.]


[Jean Mohr photo p. 50]

The doctor confronts existential issues in these questions. Berger makes the case that Sassall’s biggest inadequacy was an inability to counter the comorbidities that framed the immediate morbidities of his patients. Sassall was an idealist who tried to fix morbidities and co-morbidities patient by patient. His intermittent successes fueled his perseverance.

Seven.           Mistakes. Medical practice in Eskell’s day was mainly the binary proposition of doctor and patient, family “comorbidity” notwithstanding. Physicians had far fewer tools at their disposal than today’s incredible armamentarium, but it requires teams to deploy modern healthcare’s tools. No single John Eskell can deliver today’s miracles, although confoundingly the complex paradigm of multidisciplinary team medicine greatly increases the opportunities for error. The complexity of healthcare today and the multiplicity of people involved in the teams delivering it, has magnified the chance for mistakes in the intervening half century.

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently introduced a new department, JAMA Professionalism, with an inaugural article on disclosure of medical error. The case summary described a dermatologist who had just performed skin biopsies on two patients only to discover that the instruments he had just used had not been sterilized. The ensuing discussion revolved around the issues of disclosure and analysis of the error to preclude its repetition. [W. Levinson, J. Yeung, S. Ginsburg. Disclosure of medical error. JAMA 316(7):764-765, 2016]

A phrase has stuck with me from John Shook, the insightful “zen-master” of lean processes: I can’t remember exactly where or when he said it, but it goes like this: for us to fulfill our role, we have to keep on learning. screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-8-17-58-pm

[John Shook on right with Jack Billi]

Eight.             Retrograde thoughts. Everyone brings a unique identity to their work, and in health care the idiosyncrasies of each practitioner resonate with particular specificity in the nature of his or her practice. The professional motivations, world-view, aspirations, distractions, personal demons, work-ethic, curiosity, consistency, empathy, attention to detail, ability to listen and observe, as well as commitment to community are unique to each practitioner and are manifested distinctly in each practice, and with each patient. A mandate for professionalism is intended to bind all these variables together in the practice of medicine, but this is necessarily a vague aspiration although a national trend seeks to define a professional standard and perhaps reduce it to metrics and benchmarks. A national set of professionalism standards or a GME curricular competency can never replace the role models of John Sassall/Eskell and so many others.

It may be subversive to suggest, in today’s world of measurement and precision in medicine, that if you can’t measure something of importance, you still can (and must) improve it. The discovery of what matters to a patient may not be readily measureable. On the other hand, for things that are measureable a certain degree of precision does not matter. Whether you weigh 170 pounds vs. 169.573 pounds, or whether your creatinine is 1.2 or 1.18746, or if your BP is 120/80 or 117.3/78.4 the precision is irrelevant. However, if your abdominal aortic aneurysm or renal transplant are managed by medications that you are reluctant to admit you can’t afford – that fact really matters.

Nine.              A growing body of literature punctures any remaining illusions of the perfection of medical practice. Atul Gawande’s Complications and Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm are good examples of this genre of story-telling and introspection. This type of work is instructive, although limited to single examples of individuals, sometimes approaching the point of titillation or voyeurism. Anecdotes certainly have value, acting like fables that accrue in our minds and bring us to greater wisdom in future actions. Lacking any real-time peer review and team-based process improvement, however, these personal denouements and anecdotes are unlikely to achieve larger scale in medical practice quality improvement.

Autopsy of errors or failures is more purposeful in driving deliberate changes in the ways we deploy work, whether in the structure of a clinic visit or the steps in an operative procedure. This turns out to be the very holistic idea of the Toyota Process Systems that has translated in western business as lean engineering. Reconsidering that pseudo-scientific phrase, if you can’t measure it you can’t understand or fix it – this adage is useful, but should not become dogma. Of course, measurement is essential to understanding and improving things, but measurement is not central to all sophisticated human processes. Ideas are central to understanding and progress, and measurement is only a tool used along the way to test hypotheses, measure performances, or test results.


Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) initiated the practice of recording statistics based on his experience in the game of cricket. He applied these methods to baseball after discovering the game in 1856 while “cricket reporter” for the New York Times. His box score for reporting the game, adapted from the cricket box score, has blossomed into contemporary baseball statistics of batting average, runs scored, base on balls, strike outs, runs batted in, earned run average, fielding percentage, and errors, to name a few before falling into the more complex Sabermetrics. Numbers can replicate or model a game, but they cannot substitute for the performance of the game itself.


[1876 Box score: Wikipedia]



Ten.               Boston surgeon Ernest Amory Codman (1869-1940) was an intellectual successor to Chadwick in the realm of health care, where scoring is more complex than in baseball. [Below: Codman collecting data.]


Eskell and Codman were obsessively committed to their work, but centered on the patient in different ways. Both men were mavericks. Codman focused on measureable outcome, he called this the end result idea, and believed that individual physicians and hospital record systems should keep relevant information. Eskell attended to the patient in the moment and in the environment. Each physician was overwhelmed by his own idea. Codman became alienated from his colleagues and went bankrupt self-publishing his book on the end-result idea, A Study in Hospital Efficiency.  Eskell focused on his immediate performance delivering health care one patient at a time, attentive to their inevitable comorbidities, but he ultimately committed suicide. Whether their unfortunate ends were due to highly sensitive mirror neurons overwhelmed by the woes of the world, or obsessive personalities that closed the door to sufficient joy to offset their burdens is a mystery.

The word detachment caught my attention when I finished surgical residency at UCLA. My inspirational chief was William P. Longmire, Jr. and, just as our completing residents and fellows and the Nesbit Society, I was given a diploma when I finished training. The Longmire Society logo was a symbol with four corners that read: Detachment, Method, Thoroughness, and Humility. At the time (it was 1977) I understood three of the attributes, but found detachment somewhat odd: why include that word?

Over the years. I’ve come to understand it better. Clearly, Codman and Eskell suffered from inadequate detachment. Dr. Longmire, a great surgeon, found the right balance. He knew his patients quite well, but had the necessary detachment to make a grand incision, put his hands in the abdomen, and fix most any problem with exquisite skill and judgment. He felt the need to warn young trainees to develop similar detachment.

The world is different today. Minimally invasive surgery, OR checklists, and electronic health records serve their purposes, but distance us from patients. Indeed, with robots a surgeon never needs to physically touch a patient, surrogates and checklists can stand in the way. Don’t get me wrong, I have benefitted from the robot and I believe in systems (although not obsessively). However, when it is not the surgeon’s hand that makes the incision and it’s not the surgeon’s hands in the body, the doctor-patient relationship is changed, even if in a subtle way. This is reminiscent of the old farmer’s adage: if you have ham and eggs for breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. The new tools, the regulations, scorekeeping, and the economics of health care have created an environment of significant detachment for our trainees. We no longer need to warn them to develop that sense, rather we need to inspire the right extent of involvement and commitment that will lead them into rabbit holes and other avenues of inquiry as caring attendants at the gas stations of life.

Health care performance is now judged by a multitude of variables, some worthy and others less so: patient outcomes may not be evident for years, peer review at M & M conferences drives quality improvement, and performance measures du jour, such as Press Ganey data, remind us of our public responsibility. Ultimately, our game has no final box score. The practice of medicine is an individual art, evolving as knowledge and technology accrue and as self-knowledge notches up, one hopes in lockstep with experience, patient by patient, whether in the springtime or autumn of our careers. Measurements can improve elements of our performances, but will never substitute for artful performance itself.


[Michigan 14 – Wisconsin 7,  Nesbit Weekend 2016]


David A. Bloom

University of Michigan, Department of Urology, Ann Arbor

Commencement 2016

DAB What’s New –July 1, 2016


3805 words

 Birthing Couple_16681983_5x5-150dpi


Like the matula, this African birthing figure is a rich symbol for the healing arts, or “medicine”, if you apply that term as a generality. We hominids, unlike most other creatures, need some help with delivery of babies. Usually, birthing assistants offer emotional support and necessary physical aid while nature takes its course, but sometimes the midwife or physician will be life-saving. Birth assistance, as depicted above, has been going on since the dawn of mankind; each generation teaches its successors how best to do the job, based on experience, knowledge, and the technology available. [Figure: JAMA cover and St. Louis Art Museum. Birthing Couple. C. 1200. Niger Delta]

            Another cycle of teaching the next generation begins today in Ann Arbor as medical students transition into house officers, new fellows morph into subspecialists, and new faculty begin careers as urologists, educators, and leaders. Incoming residents feel a sense of life’s infinite potential, yet their careers will pass by in the blink of time’s eye. These thoughts came to mind as I reflected on the recent loss of Carl Van Appledorn and paused by his residency class picture of 1972.

Van Appeldorn 1972

[Front: 2nd from left Ananias Diokno, Ed Tank 3rd from left, John Konnak 4th, Jack Lapides 5th; top row – Bill Hyndman 4th from L, Carl 7th, Dan Karsch 8th, Lee Underwood 9th, Sherman Silber far right]

My residency training began in 1971 at UCLA and the surgery department picture hangs on my office wall [below]. One of my former senior residents, Jim Skow, still practices thoracic surgery in California, but I think most others senior to me then have hung up their stethoscopes. One chief resident, Mike McArthur, retired to run The Caldwell Family Zoo in Tyler, Texas. A number of my fellow interns are still working: Erick Albert (urologist in Lodi, California), Arnie Brody (hand surgeon in Pittsburgh), Ron Busuttil (Chair of Surgery at UCLA), David Confer (urologist in Tulsa, OK), John Cook (general and vascular surgeon in Billings, Montana), Jon Kaswick (urologist at Kaiser in LA), Doug McConnell (recently retired from cardiothoracic surgery in Long Beach and Redding, CA), Edward Lewis Clark Pritchett III (cardiologist at Duke), and Eric Zimmerman (neurosurgeon in Traverse City). I have lost track of most of the others (we started with 18 surgery interns and ended with 5 chiefs).

DAB 1971

A few faculty who taught me at UCLA are still working. I saw Bob Smith at the AUA last month, Rick Ehrlich maintains simultaneous extraordinary careers in urology as well as photography, and Shlomo Raz is quite busy at UCLA.


[Above: DAB & Bob Smith; below Rick at AAP 2010]


            When I finished training, board certification lasted a lifetime, hospital credentialing was rudimentary, and one’s frame of reference as a physician was largely centered on individual performance, skills, and drive. Relationships to larger systems, while important and necessary, were secondary concerns. Since then the dynamic has reversed and large systems such as the electronic medical record, peer review, MOC, RVUs, and checklists dominate individuals. Credentialing, provider enrollment, and billing have become complex and require substantial infrastructures. Proposed MACRA regulations, replacing the Sustainable Growth Rate method of physician reimbursement and published last April, prescribe financial penalties for single and small (2-9 practitioner) medical practices. The end is probably in sight for the traditional duality of health care with one patient and one provider at a time. For better and for worse, teams and systems are replacing individuals.




Five UM chief residents and four fellows graduated from our training program last month and we celebrated over dinner at the Art Museum to honor them and their families. Rebekah Beach, Miriam Hadj-Moussa, Michael Kozminski, Amy Li, and Galaxy Shah, plus Abdul Al Ruwaily, Sapan Ambani, Chad Ellimoottil, and Yahir Santiago-Lastra completed residency and fellowships. Their next career steps disperse them to Seattle, Phoenix, Grand Rapids, Duluth, Saudi Arabia, San Diego, and Ann Arbor. Below, 4 chiefs honor our reconstructive urology faculty member Bahaa Malaeb with the Silver Cystoscope Award.

Chiefs 2016

As these trainees leave, a new cycle of health care education begins in Ann Arbor and the UM Health System enters its first fiscal year under a new organizational model. To understand this change, a little history is helpful.      The University of Michigan began in 1817 in Detroit and moved to Ann Arbor in 1837, but didn’t establish a medical school until 1850. Back then, doctors were educated by two years of lectures and anatomy dissection. They studied ancient and fairly static topics, but change was in the air as the modern conceptual basis of medicine was on the verge of consolidation. Germ theory, pathology, biochemistry, physiology, and anesthesiology were joining the conversation of health care. Medical schools became places not just for lectures and anatomy dissection, but places with laboratories for the study of human biology and disease, as well as surgery.

Med School Bldg

[Above: Medical School; below: faculty house/first hospital]

Ist hosp

In 1867, a UM faculty house was converted into a dormitory for patients undergoing surgery in the medical school, making the University of Michigan the first university to own and operate a hospital. The medical school curriculum grew in complexity and length to 4 years, adding “basic science” laboratories and the “clinical laboratories” of bedside instruction. The hospital necessarily enlarged in scale, functions, personnel, and equipment.  By the late 19th century, some medical student graduates began to spend a year or more in the hospital and medical school learning new skills and fields of practice.




            The UM AMC. By 1910, when the Flexner report reformed medical education, budgets of UM hospital ($70,000/year) and medical school ($83,000/year) were comparable. Management of the two organizations diverged increasingly in the 20th century, requiring different sets of expertise. Hospital management followed the business model of American industry, centered on the principles of managerial accounting with cost centers, unit margins, accrual accounting, capital allocation, etc. Medical school management more closely followed academic principles of not-for-profit organizations with budgets decentralized to academic units that had their own goals and measures of success.

Cabot copy

Hugh Cabot, world renowned urologist, arrived from Boston in late 1919, attracted by the full-time salary model and opportunity to build a multi-specialty surgery department in Ann Arbor. He became medical school dean in 1921 and by 1926 opened a modern hospital of 1000 beds with specialties that defined the states-of-the art in medicine and surgery. That year Cabot’s first trainees, Charles Huggins and Reed Nesbit, began postgraduate medical education. Cabot’s confrontational personality produced significant backlash as he built his medical mecca, an integrated group practice. He was abrasive and blind to the value of diversity, either in opinions that differed from his own or in people themselves. Regional physicians disliked him and ultimately the regents fired him, “in the interests of greater harmony”, on February 11, 1930.

Hosp 26

Without a dean, the Medical School was run by its Executive Committee for 3 years, and a third financial enterprise became important in addition to hospital and medical school systems. This was the business of professional services. Senior professors then could independently bill for their professional services through their own offices and other employees were paid by those professors or the hospital. The lines between medical school, hospital, and professional offices regarding “who paid for what” were contested.

            It was natural for the hospital to provide outpatient services and in 1953 it opened a new building for the 24 departmentally-based ambulatory clinics (this is now the Med Inn Building) that quickly saw 20,000 patients monthly. While hospitals share many similarities with ambulatory care facilities, the work flows and challenges are actually quite different. Dissatisfaction grew over the next 50 years as physicians found themselves marginalized in the systemic clinical decision-making as medical care became increasingly complex, specialized, and expensive. Accounting methodologies for hospital and medical school differed. Matt Comstock, our Senior Finance Executive, explains it well:The entire university follows GASB (government accounting standards) when filing financial reports.  But the units within the University have had differences in how accounting standards were (and still are) applied internally to “run the business.”  The hospital followed more traditional accrual accounting standards that line up with GASB for external reporting. The UMMS used a  “sources/uses” view (think cash) for many years.” As hospital directors managed the space, capital allocations, and personnel for the departmentally-based outpatient clinics, tensions grew between hospital managerial accountancy and departmental/faculty academic missions.

Another factor arose in the latter half of the 20th century when academic medical centers made NIH funding a priority in the academic mission and failed to recognize that their essential deliverable needed to be patient care. This is the moral epicenter of academic medicine. When done right, it drives the rest of the mission and creates a healthy financial margin. Our motto in the Urology Department has become kind and excellent patient-centered care, thoroughly integrated with education and innovation at all levels. This cannot be accomplished by the providers alone, it requires an integrated systemic effort in this era of complex, team-based health care. An archipelago of cost centers cannot accomplish this task. As Toyota’s Lean Process Systems have taught western business – productivity, efficiency, and workplace satisfaction are maximized when key stakeholders participate in decisions about their work. In other words, process improvement is best accomplished by the people executing the processes.




            Archipelagos of costs centers. This metaphor comes from my friend Doug McConnell who stopped in AA with his wife Bonny on their retirement tour. We recounted similar experiences in health systems, such as seeing patients on hold in operating rooms after surgery was completed, because the recovery room was full due to nursing staff shortages in an ICU. The costs of an idle staffed OR far outweigh any saved ICU nursing position. Delay or cancellation of subsequent patients adds to cost and frustration. Downstream effects from one “efficient” cost center can sabotage an entire hospital.

Although ambulatory care activities led the way for UMHS restructuring, we still have much to gain in terms of better management of our entire enterprise in a patient-centric fashion. Just as Ford, Chrysler, and GM learned, managerial control by accounting (the archipelago of cost centers managed by regulation of supply and demand) is a failed experiment of western business, and lean process systems as developed by Toyota produces better products, with greater efficiency, and greater satisfaction for all customers.

            In 2007, UM hospital transferred ambulatory care operations to the clinical faculty, organized in the form of a Faculty Group Practice (FGP). Led by dean Jim Woolliscroft and associate dean for clinical affairs David Spahlinger, it consisted of the clinical chairs and elected positions from 5 clinical cohorts. With a book of business of 0.8 billion dollars, it was a risky venture, as the FGP assumed all of the downside risk, half the upside risk (the other half to split with the hospital), and no capital dollars. Ambulatory activities were split into 90 ambulatory care units (ACUs) functioning under the principle of keeping local decisions as close to “where the work is done” as possible.

Before merger of Medical School and Hospital Finance Offices in 2009, the two offices were not only competitive, but in the 1990s were so suspicious of each other that their staffs were prohibited from sharing information. This situation was reflective of systemic dysfunction related to structure, governance, and personality conditions that incented competitive silos. The merger brought Medical School financial reporting to the more traditional accrual view of the world, but also brought clinical and academic values to the processes, personnel, and capital of health care business.

Further changes this year aim to create a more integrated organization with a balanced mission of education, clinical practice, and research, but centered on an essential deliverable of kind and excellent patient care. Entering FY 2017, we have 150 ACUs and are applying our operational ACU principles throughout the larger UM Health System.




UM AHC reorganization. On January 1, 2016 our EVPMA, Marschall Runge, incorporated the title and functions of Medical School Dean in his office. The new organizational chart under him features 3 senior associate deans: 1.) clinical senior associate dean & president of the UMHS, David Spahlinger; 2.) academic senior associate dean, Carol Bradford, effective July 1; and 3.) scientific senior associate dean, TBD.

            The UMHS under David Spahlinger as its president features 3 operational units: a.) the UM Medical Group (UMMG, formerly the FGP); b.) Hospital Group I (UM Main Hospital and the CVC); and Hospital Group II (Mott & Women’s Hospital). Each hospital group will be managed under a leadership triad consisting of physician, nursing, and administrative leaders with a committee representing key stakeholders, namely “the people who do the work.”  The pieces of this new matrix are still coming into position – it is a work in progress, but the immediate challenges are:

a.)           Maximizing the patient experience and minimizing waste in clinical operations while enhancing the trifold academic mission.

b.)           Consolidation of large health systems around UMHS. Our educational programs (800 medical students & Ph.D. candidates, 1100 residents & fellows in 100 different areas of focused clinical practice, plus many other health education learning groups) require 400,000 covered lives locally and at least 3.5 million lives regionally.

c.)           Changing health care laws and regulations that force reimbursement away from individual professional payments to alternative methods such as bundled payments, episode of care payments, payments (or penalties) based on notions of value and quality (still incompletely defined or understood).

Accordingly, we need urgent investment to increase the scale and work-flow of our clinical operations.




            A new season begins. Today, July 1, our new residents and fellows enter into this mix of change. The new residents (“interns”) are called PGY 1s (postgraduate year ones) as they enter the career-defining stage of medical education, a time that exceeds the years spent in medical school. New house officers & fellows are in search of competency. Our job as faculty, along with senior residents and fellows, is to help them acquire the skills, professionalism, and hunger for excellence that will distinguish them as our colleagues and successors. It is a tall order and while they seek professional competency during residency, attainment of mastery will be a lifelong pursuit.

            Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, claims that humans need autonomy, mastery, and purpose if they are to achieve success and fulfillment in life. Purpose is readily found in most health care careers. Autonomy, while necessarily threatened by the larger systems and regulations, is still found in medicine. Mastery of a skill, or task, it is said, requires around 10,000 hours of practice. Urology, however, is more than a single skill, and judging empirically from the length of residency and fellowship training, it is easy to extrapolate that the hours necessary for mastery of urology exceeds 30,000. 

            Our profession, however, is the practice of medicine – a continuous process – so self-education is never done. Hunger for excellence drives  good doctors who continue to learn, on a daily basis from patients, from colleagues, and from experiences that fuel curiosity. Drive for excellence is a part of the professionalism that society expects from its physicians and other health care workers.




Summer art fair.  I had lived in Ann Arbor for 10 years before attending an Art Fair and thus deliberately began our Duckett Lecture in Pediatric Urology as the first educational event of each new fiscal/academic year on Friday of the Art Fair. We hold simultaneous staff training for the non-physicians of our department and then give the afternoon free to everyone (except for a skeleton crew to staff the phones, consults, urgencies) as a time to visit the Art Fairs or stay home and “reboot” for the new academic year. It is costly to drop a business day from our books, but we justified this as both an education/training morning and a yearly “afternoon off” birthday gift for our employees. This year (Friday July 22) the Duckett lecturer will be Caleb Nelson (Nesbit 2004), faculty member at Harvard and the Boston Children’s Hospital.


[Above: Caleb Nelson. Below: Bart Grossman]

Bart 2016

In 2006 we added the Lapides Lecture to broaden the scope of the morning, and this year it will be Bart Grossman (Nesbit 1997), our former Urology Section Chief (2003-2004), currently professor at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston.

Building on the art fair theme, we added the Chang Lecture on Art & Medicine in 2007 to kick off the academic events. This year, Don Nakayama, a distinguished pediatric surgeon, will be speaking about his novel discovery in the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. This will be on Thursday at 5 PM July 21 in Ford Amphitheater University Hospital.


Don Nakayama




Professions & commodities. Society recognizes a difference between a profession such as medical practice, and a commodity such as pork bellies. The principle value of a commodity is the commodity itself, assumed (although not always accurately) to be of a standard quality. The value of a professional service, while assumed by its status as professional to be of an acceptable standard, is more nuanced. While an acceptable standard is expected, society anticipates a higher level of duty and service than from a commodity and accordingly society allows professions to set their standards and train their successors. Professions are constantly evolving as science, practice, and technology provide new tools and new challenges. Society also shapes new expectations and demands. A pork belly, for the most part, will always be a pork belly whether you hold one in your hands today or imagine one in 50 years. Care of today’s patient with bladder cancer will be very different from that of a patient in another half century. The stories of today’s pork bellies will not be closely intertwined with the commodity 50 years hence. The same is not so true as with treatment of bladder cancer, which will be built upon many stories of discovery, trial, failure, and tragedy going forward.




Lasker. One way to understand the practice and science of medicine today, and to anticipate the opportunities and needs of tomorrow, is through stories of discovery. These are represented (although incompletely) in major recognitions such as the Nobel Prize or Lasker Awards and deserve more attention in our cultural literacy, so I like to highlight them from time to time. The Lasker program turned 70 years old last year and its Basic Medical Research Award went to Evelyn Witkin, for work demonstrating responses of bacteria to DNA damage and to Stephen Elledge for showing the molecular mechanisms by which eukaryotic cells recognize and respond to DNA damage. The Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award went to James Allison for enabling T-cells to attack cancer cells by removing “checkpoints” on these “bad guys” that normally inhibit the T-cells. Notice DeBakey’s name enjoined to the Lasker clinical award (DeBakey was mentioned in May’s What’s New/Matula Thoughts). The work celebrated in last year’s Laskers will no doubt influence urology, among other fields, in years to come. Allison’s immunotherapy work has already profoundly changed the face of melanoma management. [Pomeroy. The Lasker Awards at 70. JAMA. 314: 1117, 2015]

            If you go to the Lasker Foundation web page you can find the Essay Contest with three superb essays in 2016 by a Ph.D. student (David Ottenheimer at Johns Hopkins on modern neuroscience tools for psychiatric illness), a second year medical student (Therese Korndorf at U. Illinois Peoria on the bacterial social network and quorum sensing), and a pediatrics resident at LA Children’s (Unikora Yang on DNA editing with CRISPR). This is open to medical students, residents, graduate students, and postdocs. First prize yields $10,000. Maybe one of our learners will get inspired to write a 2017 essay.




            Commencement. The first day of medical school is offset for a month after the interns and older residents began their cycle. The White Coat Ceremony marks the start of our next 4-year medical school curriculum when students and families assemble at Hill Auditorium Saturday 10 AM July 30. New students will walk across the stage, announce their names and schools of origin, and receive white coats from the Medical School, pins from the Alumni Society, and stethoscopes provided by clinical faculty and several donors. The short white coats, symbols of medical student education, will be traded for the longer white coats of residents and faculty 4 years from now. The White Coat Ceremony, open to the public, is a lovely occasion to reconnect with our purpose of medical education. It would be a shame for a Michigan faculty member to miss the chance to do this at least once in a career.

The stethoscope inclusion began 15 years ago under Allen Lichter’s deanship, believing that the white coat and pin needed more symbolic weight to match the moment. The stethoscope is today’s “badge of office” for physicians and it’s certainly a substantial gift – the high quality ones we give out cost over $225 each. Stethoscopes connect us to patients and are a fitting metaphor for listening to the patient, in a larger sense than hearing heartbeats. Before the stethoscope was invented (by Laennec in Paris in 1816) the symbol for medical practice was the matula – the glass flask used by doctors to examine urine. This device, evident in paintings and sculptures, was a perfect metaphor for observation: the clinician’s “gaze”. More practically, the matula was the tool of uroscopy.

            The African nativity scene, the uroscopy matula, and now the stethoscope are symbols of the practice of medicine, each reflecting progressive implementation of technology and each reflecting the human skills of comforting, observing, and reflective listening. Economic, social, and regulatory pressures on healthcare professions, medicine in particular, seem to be increasing and are  “commoditizing” services that human culture has, until now, largely left to the realm of the professions. Admittedly, many medical services can be readily commoditized, such as immunizations, screening physical exams, dental hygiene, and podiatry. These are important tasks that all people need and require training and skill, but can be delivered as standard practices. Expertise deploys along a bell-shaped curve of quality, but these can be efficiently standardized by algorithms and check-lists.

            Other medical services such as managing patients with UTIs, hypospadias, neurogenic bladder, stress incontinence, medullary sponge kidney, or prostate cancer involve more than simple checklists or single skill-sets. Even “episode-of-care” approaches will fail to capture the holistic approach that patients need for specific complaints, in the complex context of their comorbidities, families, and lifelong needs and aspirations.

            The Luke Fildes painting of 1891 represents the professional side of medicine better than most images. The artist’s first son, Philip, died of TB in 1877 and the doctor at the bedside inspired this great painting. A later son, Paul, would become an eminent physician with a complex career that encompassed roles both in the discovery of sulphonamide action and the alleged use of Botulin toxin to assassinate top Nazi Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. The toxin story, probably fanciful, doesn’t diminish the richness of the father’s metaphor for the profession of medicine. In fact, the tale expands any related dialogue to an unexpected dimension. Consider dropping in at Hill Auditorium in 4 weeks for our Medical School Commencement (Saturday, this year at 10 AM) and starting conversations with your professional successors as they initiate their journeys.

The_Doctor_Luke_Fildes copy


Thanks for reading What’s New and Matula Thoughts.


David A. Bloom

Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015

DAB What’s New/Matula Thoughts September 4, 2015


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Labor & laborers: “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

[This monthly email to faculty, residents, staff, alumni, and friends of the University of Michigan Medical School Department of Urology is alternatively published as an email called What’s New]

3914 words

 1.    September returns a serious tone to the calendar and recent world market volatility adds to the sobriety. With vacations over we buckle down to the work of a new academic year in our evolving academic medical center. The fiscal year has already been in play for 2 months and the numbers look good so far.

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Our Faculty Group Practice, now known as the UMMG (UM Medical Group), is figuring out how to deliver the best care we can in nearly 150 Ambulatory Care Units attuned  to our other missions (education and research), to our inpatient functions, and to the needs of our environment. The UMMG Board meets monthly and delegates operational details to 4 key committees (Executive Committee, Budget & Finance Committee, Clinical Practice Committee, and the Bylaws Committee). [Picture above: David Spahlinger our Executive Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Director of the UMMG with Philippe Sammour, Senior Project Manager UMMG. Picture below: UMMG Board of Directors – August 2015]

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The UMMG is a multispecialty group practice of more than 2000 faculty with many other providers and staff in well over a hundred specialties and areas of precisely detailed expertise. The coordination of all these practices among our clinical departments and within our health system at Michigan is a work in progress – and the progress is good. As large as we are, however, we are too small to fulfill the expectations of the patient population we serve today and too small for our research and educational aspirations for tomorrow. Given a steady increase in clinical volume of 6% a year for many years, without infrastructure growth to match, we find ourselves deficient today in terms of clinic facilities, hospital beds, operating rooms (12 short by recent analysis of our daily needs), faculty (at least 250 FTEs short for today’s clinical volume), faculty offices (550 too few today), etc. We also fear that we may be too small to matter in the grand scheme of health care as it is evolving nationally in the face of the Affordable Care Act and the consolidation of networks. In spite of all these problems we are still pretty good compared to our peer institutions as things stand, although modest impending changes in our health system structure and governance will likely bring us much closer to realizing our potential as an unsurpassed integrated health care system and academic medical center – an effective team, a leader, and one of the few truly best. At the University of Michigan we often refer back to our great coach, Bo Schembechler, for his inspiring phrases, notably: “The team, the team, the team.” A fellow great coach, Vince Lombardi who died 45 years ago as of yesterday, echoed some of the ideas of Adam Smith the lead quote this month.

2.     September began last Tuesday and meteorological autumn in the Northern Hemisphere starts this month. Farmers traditionally begin the harvest, schools come into session, and the workday, as we noted, becomes a little more serious. Labor Day anticipates the seasonal transition and brings to mind Adam Smith who famously observed (with the examples of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker) that civilization requires specialization of work, although two millennia earlier Hippocrates made a similar recognition that medical practice requires specialization. In the Hippocratic world that first particular brand of work happened to be urology, manifested back then as lithotomy – the cutting for (bladder) stone. Were Hippocrates to visit us today at UMMG in a time machine, the only specialty he would recognize out of the hundred plus areas of practice would be urology – the single specialty he deferred to “specialists of that art.” The knowhow involved with cystolithotomy was rightly described as an art, just as the practice of medicine today is often still called an art. Artists go even further back in time: cave-dwelling paintings, long before Hippocrates, prove visual artists were among the earliest branches of the human labor force.


3.    Sept Heures

We previously have commented on the beautiful monthly panels illustrated by the Limbourg brothers in a book of prayers called The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Brothers Herman, Paul, and Johan were Dutch miniature painters from the city of Nijmegen active in early 15th century in Europe. Like Diego Rivera, closer to our time, the brothers travelled to the best sponsors who could commission their art. In 1416 the artists and the Duke of Berry died abruptly (likely from a plague pandemic) and their ambitious Très Riches Heures was completed by others. The September panel, shown above, features a harvest with 5 people picking grapes, while a man and pregnant woman seem to be supervising (the managers?). The grapes are placed in baskets, transferred to mules, then moved to oxen carts. Presumably the actual wine-making processes took place within the castle walls along with other trades and crafts. A fair degree of work specialization was evident at the Castle of Saumur there in the France’s Anjou wine region. Worker productivity was of immediate concern to the Duke or whoever was in charge of the castle, with carrot and stick as the time-honored means of motivation.

 Feb 1848

[February Revolution in Paris at l’Hôtel de Ville. HFE Philippoteaux at Carnavalet Museum]

It was over 500 years later in France before the rights of workers achieved their due attention. The head rolling of the French Revolution was evidence of the disequilibrium between workers and those in charge of them, but it was not until 1864 that French workers obtained a legislated right to strike and in 1866 the right to organize. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of his namesake, was the force behind these workers’ rights. His big moment had come in 1848 when the February French Revolution (an aftershock of the big one in 1789) allowed him to change places in exile in England with the deposed King Louis Philippe who had lost the trust of the citizens. Louis-Napoleon then became France’s first president by popular vote in February, 1848. When his term of office ended in 1852 and he found a second term blocked by the Constitution and Parliament, Louis-Napoleon conveniently organized a coup d’etait, re-naming himself Napoleon III and reigning as Emperor until 1870 (coincidentally wrapping up that term on this calendar day – September 4).

Napoleon III

[Napoleon III by A. Cabanet. At Musée du Second Empire. Compiègne]


 4.     In the heyday of industrialization some types of work were especially dangerous and abusive, although workers had little recourse to ask for safe conditions or fairness. Labor unions arose to occupy the need to balance the worker and employer disequilibrium. Labor Day, to be celebrated next Monday, is a marker for this necessary balance. Forward-looking businesses today embrace the belief that workers themselves are the best source of workplace knowledge and have the best motivation to make better products, with greater efficiency and greater satisfaction for critical stakeholders. This idea is intrinsic to lean process systems that represent the newest evolutionary step in the human labor force. Enlightened leaders have come to realize that the health and happiness of workers are linked to productivity, but more importantly are human rights as well.

Unionization of dangerous occupations makes more sense than unionization of less risky trades – think mine workers versus postal workers – yet, work is work and few can argue that any worker can be abused by any manager or any system. The recent exposé of alleged management abuse of workers at Amazon illustrates this point. Nonetheless, unionization of white collar cognitive professions takes some explanation for, by their very nature, professions have their own intrinsic protections. When professions are commoditized, however, and their members believe themselves treated poorly, unionization becomes a rational step. Unionization of professions might not be necessary in a perfect world, but this world is far from perfect. The Eastern Michigan University faculty are unionized, for example, while the University of Michigan faculty are not. While I am no authority on the EMU story, that particular unionization was likely a direct result of faculty grievances against past administrations. At the University of Michigan, though, the nurses, houses officers, many hospital employees, graduate students, and lecturers are represented by unions. The bottom line is the old story that power has a corruptive tendency and a just equilibrium must exist between labor and management.


[Ann Arbor News, August 12, 2015. The 690 EMU AAUP Professors reach a tentative agreement for annual 2.5% raises, changes in health care payments, administrative support, and research incentives]

Administrators and leaders can become self-important and smug (urology chairs are not immune). In the words of the respected Stanford business professor, Robert I. Sutton, some managers are worse than jerks, if you accept the use of his term in his book title.

Sutton RI

[Sutton RI, The No Asshole Rule. 2007 ]


5.     All people, governed or managed, need to believe that they are being treated fairly and that their voices are taken seriously by leadership. No employee can expect to agree with all organizational decisions, but an overall sense of fairness and responsiveness to individual opinion must pertain. Fairness is a fundamental human belief, evident too in many of our fellow primates plus some other mammals, but unique for humans among the eusocial species (bees, ants, etc.), as mentioned here last month in regard to E.O. Wilson’s work. Beliefs and language govern us with greater sophistication than the governance by pheromones and patterned behaviors of the other eusocials. We shouldn’t disparage pheromones, however, as they provide colonies the ability to react to observations of its individual members monitoring the challenges and opportunities of the environment. In this way the colony becomes a superorganism. We humans have infinitely greater communication tools to govern and regulate ourselves using facial expressions, noise, language, audible conversations, writing, music, visual art, customs, manners, beliefs, laws, and other ways of conveying information. When the public shares a general perception of fairness, civil harmony is likely to pertain, if not hell can break out. Just as corrosive to society as abusive work, perhaps even worse, is the inability to find work. A few weeks ago I heard the author Walter Mosley being interviewed on NPR by Renee Montagne about his experiences as a 12-year old boy in Watts during the riots of 1965, just 50 years ago. Mosley said, simply: “You could feel the rage”  – a statement capturing the raw emotion that exploded on the streets after a young man was arrested for drunk driving. [NPR. Morning Edition. Renee Montagne: Walter Mosley remembers the Watts Riots. August 13, 2015] Ten years after the riots I rotated from UCLA to Martin Luther King, Jr. Hospital in Watts and the effects of the riots were still present physically on the streets and emotionally among the people. My time at MLK was personally and educationally a good experience, I liked the hospital and its gritty esprit d’corps. It was quite a contrast to UCLA’s upscale Westwood campus. The full time staff at MLK felt a part of the community, where the daily struggles were still too often very raw. I didn’t fully understand the rawness then. A new book, Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates however, brings one closer.


6.     The first French Revolution of 1789-99 was not the only time in history when it people’s opinions mattered and we see evidence of the power of public opinion again and again. Wise political leaders, administrators, and managers understand that protests, strikes, riots, civil disobedience, or revolutions are unfortunate recourses when public opinion and leadership clash. Political lobbying, referendums, and orderly change of representational governance are more civilized, kinder, and less wasteful. Opinion surveys are another tool to understand stakeholders, with the first documented opinion poll occurring in 1824 when a Pennsylvania “straw poll” found Andrew Jackson leading John Quincy Adams 335 to 169 in the presidential race. Jacksonian democrats thought they had the election in the bag.

John Quincy Adams

[JQ Adams’ daguerreotype c. 1840s; Smithsonian Archives. Although Jackson had more popular votes and expected to win, Adams, a great statesman and politician, gained the support of Henry Clay to win the presidency, serving from 1825 to 1829, when Jackson finally gained the position]

A straw poll is a figure of speech referring to a thin plant stalk held up to the wind of public opinion to see which way it is blowing. George Gallup in Iowa in 1936 added science and statistics to the methodology of opinion sampling. Elmo Roper and Louis Harris entered the field of predictive polling around that time. Perhaps the darkest day for that business was the mistaken prediction of Thomas Dewey’s “defeat” of Harry S Truman in the 1948 presidential election by 5-15 percentage points. Although Gallup explained his error by noting that he concluded polling three weeks before election day, his humiliation endured, demonstrating to us once again that numbers are mere human inventions that may (or may not) approximate reality. All data must be viewed with suspicion, no numbers or numeric manipulations are sacrosanct.


Some thoughts on surveys, but first, a disclaimer: I don’t like spending time on surveys and am quick to delete requests for them in my email. Personal bandwidth in this “age of information” is crowded and in clinical medicine the crowding is especially intense. Last winter I decided to try to list email requests for surveys consecutively over the prospective calendar year, but my effort lasted less than 3 weeks. I gave up after more than 2 dozen such well-intended requests whether from the medical school, the health system, the university, colleagues from other institutions, my professional organizations, etc. The proliferation of surveys, however, is not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of democratic society; others care what we think. Many stakeholders in our work and community want to assess their services to us and hope to discover our opinions of their contributions. The fundamental problem is not their curiosity, but rather our limited bandwidth. No one can satisfy all the requests: you must pick and choose.


 7.     Just about 50 years ago at this time of year, the Rolling Stones released their hit song “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards the lyrics referred to sexual frustration and commercialization.


Who would have believed that 50 years later the matter of satisfaction in health care (on the part of patients, providers, and employees) would be major matters of national attention? When I was an associate dean, Gil Omenn and Doug Strong asked me to create a faculty satisfaction survey. After a few reminders, I did this with Skip Campbell, aiming for a very brief set of less than 10 questions to assess satisfaction of the faculty regarding their work and environment. To convince faculty to fill this out we sent out a cogent personal initial request with a few reminders and provided a generous window of time. The response rate turned out quite good. Widespread dissatisfaction was discovered concerning the faculty’s ability to deliver the clinical care they deemed appropriate. This data was an important factor in shaping the transfer of ambulatory care management from the hospital administration to a “faculty group practice.” The information obtained also gave the dean an ability to assess the general “faculty temperature” and understand relative degrees of satisfaction in each department. Since then, the faculty satisfaction survey has been shaped to ascertain more granular information at specific worksites and it has grown in size and complexity. Currently at Michigan we have a number of additional  “satisfaction” surveys, but the following ones affect us most directly.

a.)     Faculty satisfaction survey. Take this one seriously – it is important to us. Variances from our past numbers or from other departmental data are  analyzed carefully by the dean, leadership, and our fellow departments.

b.)     Employee satisfaction survey. This gauges how the tens of thousands of employees in the medical school and health system view their work lives and work places. We examine the details at many levels in our administrative hierarchy. The dean also discusses this data with chairs in the yearly evaluation process.

c.)     SACUA administrators survey. This comes from the University of Michigan Faculty Senate and queries faculty about their immediate administrators (in our case, this is me) and all the others in the long line to and including the president. Medical School participation in this has generally been weak, perhaps indicating faculty sense of remoteness from the central campus.

d.)     Patient satisfaction surveys are increasingly tied to clinical re-imbursement. Initially the UM Health System used Press Ganey surveys of patient encounters. This company has a 30-year history of healthcare experience and the consistency of data was useful for year-to-year comparisons, but we are now constrained to switch to the HCAHPS (Hospital Consumers Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey, provided by vendors on behalf of CMS. The change disconnected us from our historic data. HCAHPS queries a random sample of patients 48 hours – 6 weeks after discharge and asks 27 questions related to their hospital experiences.

e.)     Those pesky reputation and quality surveys.  The US News and World Reports surveys not only rescued a dying newsmagazine, but also galvanized attention and resources of every major health care system and medical school in the country. How do we stand in 2015 national rankings?  Our Department of Urology is number 10 nationally.


[Above: Urology Department Spring Retreat, realigning ourselves and listening to each other]

Our Medical School stacks up as #5 for primary care and #10 for research.  Our Hospital ranked number 10 in pediatric specialties and number 11 in adult specialties (in spite of our stubborn determination over the past 16 years to avoid joining the “nurse magnet hospital” list).

Recent “quality” ratings such as ProPublica are attracting attention. These low hanging fruits of public data commercialization to date offer incomplete information and lack meaningful context. While these products may have commercial and titillational value, on the scale of meaningful data so far they set the bar at the left end (near zero) of the Likert Scale. By the way, the originator of the Likert Scale, Rensis Likert, was a UM alumnus who died 34 years ago as of yesterday (September 3, 1981) at age 78 of bladder cancer here in Ann Arbor. He is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery, just a short walk from our offices. More on him in a future What’s New/Matula Thoughts.


8.     It is wonderful to see a resurgence of high quality labor in Detroit and Shinola is a premier example. Shinola shoe polish originated as a brand in 1907, was trademarked in 1929, and became popular during WWII.  Anyone who was in the military then and for a generation thereafter usually had a can of shoe polish at hand because shoes were expected to have a high shine, outside of combat conditions. A spit shine was literally obtained by spit. (When I was in the Army, however, newer permanently glossy black shoes became available and all you had to do was wipe them clean.) During WWII a colorful phrase developed around Shinola, although its author will probably remain forever unknown. The phrase compared Shinola to a bodily output usually more formed than spit, although much less acceptable in public, even at baseball games or on sidewalks. The phrase established a basic measure of intelligence as the ability to discern that aforesaid product of elimination from Shinola shoe polish. The concept was captured beautifully in a scene in the classic film, The Jerk, with Steve Martin. [The Jerk, 1979, Directed by Carl Reiner] Anyway, in 2001 a venture capital firm in Dallas, Bedrock Marketing, acquired the name Shinola and began manufacturing watches, bicycles, the shoe polish, and leather products – all made in America and usually in Detroit. The company also produces a high-quality note pad that, unlike that of most competitors, has paper that doesn’t “bleed” with fountain pen ink. The pads are made here in Ann Arbor by Edwards Brothers-Malloy. Shinola headquarters in Detroit is in an Alfred A. Taubman Building. Of course that building’s name is well represented on our University of Michigan campus and especially in the medical school. Alfred passed away last year after an extraordinary life that continues to impact us so positively on our campus.


9.    Shinola

In this era of expensive but disposable athletic shoes, the well-shined shoe is less common than in the first Shinola era. My old chief of surgery at UCLA, Bill Longmire, would express visible distaste for sloppiness among his house officers, and sloppy shoes were quick to catch his eyes. Army experience made me an average shoe shiner and I still keep polish and a brush in the office. When I am on the road as a “travelling salesman” on behalf of our department I generally give myself time at the airport to see Rick Jackson, a shoe professional I’ve known for 30 years. Rick is at his job daily opposite gate 47 in Detrot’s McNamara Terminal and one of his chairs is my preferred place to sit and converse while at the airport. Rick also keeps track of fellow traveller urologists, such as Mani Menon. Stop by sometime and let Rick make you look more presentable. [Below: our own Gary Faerber and Dan Hayes of Hematology Oncology with Rick]



10.    Historically in the University of Michigan Health System, as well as at most other large health care systems, health care workers labored in disequilibrium with administration. All well-intended specialists in the health care labor force (physicians, nurses, managers, residents, hospital employees, researchers, administrators, unionists, etc.) pushed their agendas, but too often the ultimate agendas of patient care, education, new knowledge, and worker satisfaction were side-tracked. Full and effective faculty participation in the daily management of clinical work as well as strategic planning and deployment was an idea advanced here in the 1990s by Mark Orringer, but soundly rebuffed by the dean and hospital administration back then. The concept had legs, as it might be said, for it is a sensible Darwinian evolution and certainly in tune with the modern industrial ideas of lean process systems. The Faculty Group Practice (FGP) emerged around a decade later and has proven successful in its limited application to our ambulatory (outpatient) activities. In practice, however, the division of clinical work into ambulatory and in-patient spheres is artificial and ultimately counter-productive to our real goals of clinical excellence, safety, efficiency, ideal patient experience, education, new knowledge, and ultimate job satisfaction for all employees. With our current EVPMA, Marschall Runge, we sense new alignment of our health system structure and governance. (Marschall, by the way, is the grandson of a 1918 UMMS alumnus.) The FGP, now the University of Michigan Medical Group (UMMG), hopes to be a cornerstone in the alignment of all essential facets of our academic medical center to fulfill those elusive goals of clinical excellence and mission optimization as mentioned above. We should be able to accomplish this here at Michigan as well or better than any other place on the planet. Our history has set that precedence, our people are as good as they come, and we have, I hope, the collective will and drive to come together and get it done now that September is here.  

 Runge, Johnson

[Two UM health care laborers, a cardiologist and a gynecologist/obstetrician: Marschall Runge & Tim Johnson]


Best wishes, thanks for reading What’s New/Matula Thoughts and happy Labor Day.

David A. Bloom


Matula Thoughts August 7, 2015

Fair weather, formicidae, fables, and funambulism

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 1.   Brehm

August in Ann Arbor with long days of sunlight, warm breezes, and summer clothing is especially sweet by contrast to our winter days. Thanks to generous rains filling our rivers and refreshing the ground water Ann Arbor’s August is immersed in green. [Above: view from the roof of the Brehm Tower of Kellogg Eye Center. Below: kayaks by the Huron]


Birds, cicadas, tree frogs, and lightning bugs create accidental symphonies of sound and light in my neighborhood. Summertime in the Northern Hemisphere brings a measure of balance, relaxation, and sunny public spaces. Vacation allows time to recharge and summer in Ann Arbor is pretty much as good as it gets for doing that.


[Michigan Stadium from Ann Arbor Golf Outing]

August in parts of Europe is almost entirely set aside as vacation time for many workers, whereas in North America “work-life balance” is stricter with a week or two of vacation, plus the long weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. These thoughts remind me of an animated cartoon that I loved as a kid called the Grasshopper and the Ants, an ancient fable of Aesop recast by a young Walt Disney in 1934 in The Silly Symphony (you can find it on YouTube – it runs 8 minutes).


The gist of the story was that a grasshopper had fun and played all summer, while the neighboring ants aligned industriously to work throughout the sunny days storing up food and preparing for winter. When winter came, the cold and hungry grasshopper realized his sorry situation and came begging to the ants for food and shelter. According to Disney’s version, after a momentary reprimand the ants kindly took in the pitiful grasshopper who then entertained them with his fiddle over the winter. In the Aesopian corpus this story is The Cicada and the Ant (classified as Perry 373). The simplistic moral to the story is a useful lesson for children, but humans, unlike ants, need vacations; motivations in the human sphere differ from those in ant land.


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[EOW by DAB 2002]  

Ants and humans, E.O. Wilson teaches us, are among the very rare eusocial species on Earth. These colonial animals live in multi-generational groups where most individuals cooperate to advance the public good and to perpetuate the species into the next generation. In effect, their colonies are superorganisms that transcend  individual biologic lives and create civilizations turned over to successive generations. The meaning of individual lives, then, is simply to be found in their contribution to their tomorrow and the tomorrows of their successors. Ants accomplish this work by communicating via pheromones, chemical signals that Wilson and his collaborators elucidated. Pheromones, added to genetic and epigenetic capabilities, vastly enhance the ability of eusocial organisms to deal with and transmit information. The human luck of spoken and written language allows us to process information (sensory, narrative, and numeric), work cooperatively, and create new information that we deploy and pass along to successive generations. The cultural and scientific ways of thinking that emerged from language have produced creativity that has changed the Earth. Whereas internal motivation and environmental pressures inspire personal creativity, it is largely personal and political freedom that allows its dissemination, thereby expanding civilization intellectually and materially.

Tai Che 2

It is a beautiful thing to see people acting in harmonious synchrony. This picture I took outside the de Young Museum in San Francisco this spring shows a display of T’ai chi (太極拳), a Chinese martial art practiced for its health effects, focusing the mind for mental calm and clarity. No pheromones or visible rewards motivate this alignment, the motivation is internal. T’ai chi is lovely to watch, the harmony and synchrony registering pleasurably in the hardwiring of our brains. This is the stuff of art, the deliberate work of other people that we admire and that sometimes astonishes us. You can find beauty in a myriad of other aligned performances. The Stanley Cup playoffs are one example of exquisite and harmonious alignment of teams. Surgical procedures may fall into this realm; it’s interesting that in Great Britain the operating room is referred to as the surgical theatre. When synchrony is harshly enforced, however, as in the dark vision of industrialism depicted by the Diego Rivera murals in Detroit or the failed experiments of communism, alignment is not so pretty. 


3.  Diego Rivera

The cartoonish stereotype of disheartened industrial assembly line workers in the Rivera murals has been reinforced by generations of business schools and accounting management ideology. The belief was that managers should determine work-flow methodology and set production targets as if assembly lines were machines to be sped up or slowed down as managers deemed necessary. This is the essence of accounting-based management. The Toyota Process System, now embraced world-wide by forward-looking businesses as lean process methodology, turns this paradigm around, having shown that where workers are empowered to think, innovate, and take pride in their work, better products, greater efficiency, and customer satisfaction will result. Ironically, Toyota’s innovation was initiated over 60 years ago when the company’s founder visited Ford’s massive River Rouge plant just as Japan was rebuilding its industrial base after WWII. Where the American managers saw one thing in the Ford assembly line, the Japanese leaders saw something completely different. The following quote explaining “What Toyota saw at the Rouge” comes from an excellent book called Profit Beyond Measure, by H. Thomas Johnson and Anders Bröms: “When Eiji Toyoda told Philip Caldwell that Toyota had discovered the secret to success at the Rouge, his comment implied that what Toyota had perceived about operations at the Rouge was very different than what Caldwell and his Ford colleagues or their counterparts in the other Big Three auto companies had seen. For one thing, it seems that Toyota people did not view low cost at the Rouge in terms of its scale, its throughput, or its managers’ effort to impose external targets for speed and cost on workers in the plant. Instead, they seemed to perceive a holistic pattern permeating every minute particular of the system. On one level, the pattern that caught Toyota’s attention was the overall continuous flow of work in the Rouge as a whole. But at a much deeper level, they observed that work flowed continuously through each part of the system – literally through each individual work station – at the same rate that finished units flowed off the line.” (Caldwell was President of Ford at the time.) Toyoda saw an organic self-learning system in the assembly line, where expertise at work stations is continuously harvested by motivated workers to improve work flow and product. Jeanne Kin and Jack Billi floated this book to my attention a few years ago and it continues to strongly impact my view of organizational systems.


4.   Just as modern industry is embracing the concepts of Toyota Lean Processes, health care systems in their frenzy to cut costs while complying with increasingly onerous regulation are oddly embracing the failed experiments of management accounting that impose cost and throughput targets on health care providers. Data (numeric information) should inform decisions whenever possible, but it cannot be the sole driver of key operational choices. All data must be viewed as suspect for, after all, the numeric information we produce for ourselves is merely an artifact of human invention: numbers and their manipulation may or may not reflect reality accurately. Intense focus on data tends to obliterate stories (narrative information). Truth is elusive and while stories can be just as false or misleading as data can be wrong or misinterpreted, when stories resonate with truth, prove to be genuine, or otherwise offer value they get repeated and stick around. While the accounting mentality examines data for consistency and at its best extracts useful stories from data, the scientific mentality examines and hypothesizes stories and then seeks data to support the story and create a better one. Accounting is a matter of numbers, but science is ultimately a matter of stories. The human brain is hard-wired to relate to meaningful stories, and those ancient ones that endure, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and the Bible, endure because they give artful evidence of larger truths, exemplary behavior, or experiences that we keep repeating. Some stories are extremely succinct, but have enough truth that we keep repeating them like: Pythagoras’s story that for a right-sided triangle the area of the square on the side opposite the right angle equals the sum of the areas of the squares of the other two sides. Another durable story is that the area within a circle is its radius squared times an irrational number called pi.One might argue that by its very substance this story is irrational, but it sure seems to have held up through time. A newer story tells of the ultimate connection of light, matter, and energy, that is, is e=mc2. These stories seem to be true and have found their Darwinian niche in the human narrative.


5.   We are indoctrinated by stories since childhood. Fables, short stories with moral lessons, typically feature animals with human qualities. Aesop, supposedly a slave in ancient Greece (620-560 BC) a generation after Pythagoras and a century prior to Hippocrates, is the fabulist best known in the Western world. It is an astonishing demonstration of Darwinian durability that his fables have been repeated to children in most languages for well over 2500 years. Ben Perry, the 20th century authority on Aesop, indexed and edited Aesop’s stories for the Loeb Classical Library in 1952. One of the half dozen fables dealing with health care is The Old Woman and the Thieving Physician. This may have been added to the Aesop corpus rather than an original of the actual fabulist. The tale involves an elderly lady with sore eyes who asks a physician to cure her from anticipated blindness, but her deal was that payment had to await cure. The doctor made repeated house calls to apply salves and with each visit stole anything he could take away from the house. Once the cure was competed the woman refused payment saying that her sight seemed to be worse than ever since she now couldn’t see or find any of her household property. This characterization of the dishonest physician was number 57 of the Perry Index.


6.   Ben Perry was born in 1852 in Fayette Ohio and received his B.A. in 1915 from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D from Princeton in 1919. His early academic posts took him to Urbana Ohio University, Dartmouth, Western Reserve, and then, for the bulk of his career from 1924-1960 at the University of Illinois. He returned to Michigan as visiting professor in 1967 and died back in Urbana, Illinois in 1968. Perry concentrated his work in two minor genres, the fable and the ancient novel. The Perry Index includes all fables related to, ascribed to, or connected to Aesop and goes from #1 The Eagle and the Fox to #584The River-fish and the Sea-fish.  In addition, the Extended Perry Index goes from #585 Sick Lion, Fox and Bear to #725 Fish from Frying Pan into Coals. Curiously Aesop offered tales of all sorts of creatures and many occupations, but only the occasional doctor’s story in addition to the ophthalmologic case: #7 Cat as Physician and the Hens,  #114 The Physician at the Funeral, # 170 Physician and Sick Man,  #187 The Wolf as Physician, or #289 The Frog Physician, and #317The Unskilled Physician. Some of these were matters of impersonations while others like #57 above were character studies of the profession. Perry #427 was the classic Fox and Hedgehog story, resurrected for our time by Isaiah Berlin.


7.   The Art Fair is a special time in Ann Arbor. I lived here for about 10 years before I ever walked around in it – summertime is busy for those who take care of children, pediatric urologists included. In 1997 we started the John Duckett Lecture in Pediatric Urology, in honor of a colleague and a friend of Michigan Urology who had passed away that year. The idea was that this would take place on the Friday morning of the Art Fair, and we would close up most of our clinical and research work for the day. Our staff would simultaneously have Staff Education Day in the morning and the afternoon free for the Art Fair or whatever, as their annual birthday present. Over the years we have expanded the intellectual part of our Art Fair week with the Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine Chang on the Thursday and usually added a Lapides Lecture to the Friday session. This year we asked one person, Pierre Mouriquand from Lyon France, to do both the Chang and Duckett Lectures. In effect this was asking Pierre to walk a tightrope between two intellectual towers, and he navigated the line beautifully.  As a great pediatric urologist and a painter of substance and daily practice, he is well qualified on both fronts. The Chang Lecture consisted of Pierre’s story Slowly down the Rhône: the River and its Artists. He produced a magnificent talk bringing together not only art and medicine, but also geography.

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His Duckett Lecture was Understanding the Growth of the Genital Tubercle: Why it is relevant for the Hypospadiologist.  Here he showed his mastery of the field with a brilliant update on embryology and challenging thoughts on surgical reconstruction of difficult dysfunctional anatomy. He fielded a series of case presentations from residents and later in the day attended our Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) team meeting and lunch, where he challenged the modern terminology and presented some videos that showed new concepts in reconstruction. In the evening at dinner our residents and the pediatric urology team got to know Pierre and his wife Jessica mixing technical talk, health systems discussions, and seeing how a couple successfully navigates the challenging world of life, family, and academic medicine. 

Pierre & Jessica

Regarding this first academic event of the new season of residency training (also called Graduate Medical Education or GME) I need to invoke a sports metaphor and say that “Pierre hit it out of the park.” Events like these fulfill the essential duty of the university: sharpening inquisitiveness, disseminating ideas, widening cosmopolitanism, and educating our successors.


8.   Chang Lecture on Art and Medicine 2016. Our speaker next year will be Don Nakayama, former chair of the Surgery Department at West Virginia. He wrote an interesting article in Pharos last year on the Diego Rivera murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. [The Pharos 77: 8, 2014] Perceptively, he recognized that the so-called Surgery Panel on the South Wall was not a depiction of “brain surgery” as art historians have claimed, but rather an illustration of an orchiectomy, a procedure much more attuned to Rivera’s view of the Rouge Plant workers. It is a great testimony to the vision of Edsel Ford to have brought Rivera, arguably the world’s best muralist of the time and an ardent communist, to Detroit to produce the work in 1932. Things didn’t go so well later in New York City when Rivera tried to repeat the experiment with the Rockefellers, but that’s another story.


[Lower right mural on the South Wall: the orchiectomy]

Caleb Nelson will be doing the Duckett Lecture and Bart Grossman will be doing the Lapides Lecture next year for an all-Nesbit Line up on that Friday of the 2016 Art Fair.


9.   Little Red Hen  Disney’s Silly Symphonies also included The Wise Little Hen, a version of a Russian folk tale more popularly known as The Little Red Hen. The nugget of the story was that the hen finds a grain of wheat and asks the other animals on the farm to help plant, grow, and harvest it. None chose to help, but after she harvests the wheat she asks again for help threshing, milling, and baking, but none step forward. After the bread is done, she asks who should help eat it – and of course everybody volunteers. The hen, however, says sorry “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (The Wise Little Hen  included the debut of Donald Duck.) President Ronald Reagan referred to this story in 1976, citing a politicized version  in which the farmer chastised the hen for being unfair. After the hen was forced to share her bread, she lost the incentive to work and the entire barnyard suffered. This twist on the story made it a cautionary tale slamming the welfare state. While the story teaches children the importance of doing their part in terms of the daily work of the community it lacks the complexity of reality. Modern society is far more complicated than a barnyard and the line between personal responsibility and public beneficence (i.e. government) is tricky to arbitrate. Furthermore, many in society experience tragic bad luck beyond their control or are unable to assume personal responsibility. Reagan’s farmer had the un-antlike characteristic of compassion, a human quality that must have long-preceded even our biblical days. A society has to nurture personal freedom, creativity, and individual responsibility if it is to be successful, but without kindness and compassion a civilization is not a human one. After all, when Disney anthropomorphized his ants he gave them not just language, but also compassion.

Where do we draw the lines regarding personal freedom and such things as immunization mandates, smoking, drug use, obesity, and dangerous behavior? Should motorcyclists have to wear helmets? How do we provide health care to the indigent and incapable? How do we create health care equality and affordability? These questions ultimately get arbitrated in the political arenas regionally and nationally, generation after generation. Our nation walks on a tightrope between the cartoonish ideologies of the welfare state and what some might call individualism, capturing the beliefs of libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism, and ethical egoism. Obviously neither the welfare state nor any “ism” has it right – the best path for a just, creative, and cosmopolitan civilization is a path in between the cartoons. The bad news of today (and maybe this is the bad news for every human era) is that cartoonish people find their ways to leadership and compel the rest of us along irrational paths that threaten  the future we want to turn over to our next generation. All citizens need to step up their understanding of the issues of public policy and health care as well as involving themselves in its regional and national discussions. We can no longer let politicians, accountants, and pundits alone shape the critical decisions.


10.  Funambulism. On this day, August 7, in 1974 a 24-year old Frenchman named Philippe Petit walked across a high wire he had rigged between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. He actually crossed the wire 8 times, performing for 45 minutes to the amazement of on-lookers in the towers. He must have looked like an  ant to those on the ground, and vice versa. Petit’s funambulism represents a perfection of self-alignment in terms of balance that few can achieve, yet it is also an astonishing display of self-confidence, clandestine preparation, and admirable civil-disobedience. Curiously funambulism defines tightrope walking and a show of mental agility interchangeably. Few can deny that serious tightrope walking is as much a matter of mental as physical agility and you have to admire the internal drive that motivated Petit to accomplish this heroic feat. That was art.


Postscript: With the start of August we saw the retirement of Jack Cichon, our departmental administrator, and Malissa Eversole is now steadily in place on the job. Jack managed the business and operational affairs of Michigan Urology for 20 years with great loyalty, integrity, and (at some challenging times) extraordinary courage under pressure. He becomes an honorary member of the Nesbit Society and we hope to continue to see him in the course of our departmental events, noting his broadened smile of relief from the administrative pressures of the University of Michigan Medical School and Health System that he served so admirably.   

Cichon 2015

Thanks for spending time with What’s New and Matula Thoughts.

David A. Bloom, MD

Department of Urology, University of Michigan Medical School

Ann Arbor