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Thursday May 14, 2020

Summer Reading (and Listening) List for Sidelined Students

I'm sitting on my back porch in sunny South Carolina, where I recently experienced virtual graduation from my medical school in Tennessee, and I'm having a hard time writing this blog post. There are moving boxes to be unpacked in the kitchen, our mattress is lying on the bedroom floor, and the only place we have to sit in the living room is a giant recliner from Big Lots that we're forced to share until our couch arrives.

[young woman reading books]

My husband -- another recent medical school graduate -- and I have spent every waking moment together for the past three months during isolation. Our last medical school classes, Match Day and graduation were all online. On a banal Monday afternoon two weeks ago, we drove away from our home of the past four years without hugging anyone goodbye.

I think most of you would agree that our current physical isolation has brought emotional isolation along with it. For me, it's generated increased anxiety, disappointment, sadness, and a longing to connect with others in a meaningful and helpful way. Stuck in this weird limbo between medical school and residency, I feel useless to the community around me and have a lost sense of purpose. I want to help, but I can't really help for another month. The best I can do to help right now is stay healthy at home for my fellow residents.

If you read my previous list of medical media suggestions, you'll know that I posted it because some people who heard my speech at last summer's National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, where I referenced media that influenced my way of navigating the world, asked me for recommendations. I'm bringing you an extension of that list today because books, podcasts, movies and articles have been some of the best ways for me to stay in touch with the world around me during this stressful time. For any of you out there who are also struggling to stay engaged, here are some perspectives you may not have encountered before. In a time when my primary responsibility is simply not to leave my house, these books, articles, movies and podcasts have challenged me to step out of my mental and emotional comfort zone. If you've encountered them before, maybe now is the time for a second go-round. Although being a medical student in a time when most of us aren't allowed to be in the clinic is certainly strange, it has given me the opportunity to reassess what brought me to medicine and how I can help people outside my future clinical practice.

BOOKS

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Rebecca Skloot's book is often suggested to medical students, and I took way too long getting around to reading it. I hope to prevent you from making the same mistake. Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cancerous cervical cells were taken without her permission in 1951 and used to create an immortal cell line (HeLa) still used today in the making of vaccines and genetic treatments and for the study of cell proliferation in space. Her experience sparked conversations around racial inequality in medicine, the use of human materials for research and informed consent in medical procedures. This exploration of the woman behind the cells and the life that allowed so many others to live is well worth the read.
  • Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell's book is a great introduction to how unequal opportunities can become magnified over time. Gladwell employs the much-debated 10,000-hour rule to explore how advantages and privileges contribute to certain individuals' success in their chosen field, while others, who are just as gifted and intelligent, fail. Although I think there's more to the story than even Gladwell shares, Outliers is a good foundation for understanding how significantly one's environment affects individual outcomes.
  • The Hate U Give: This is a tough book to get through, especially with the violence we see too often in our society. Although Angie Thomas' book is a work of fiction, the circumstances surrounding a police shooting of a young black man and the struggle of the community he leaves behind are all too real. Told from the perspective of Starr, a young, black female witness, this is an important story of the black experience in the United States. This book gave me the opportunity to see a fuller picture of what happens before, during and after a shooting of this nature.
  • Something local: Although this isn't a specific recommendation, my last book suggestion is to find something to read related to your local community. In my previous post, I wrote about the impact of reading My Own Country by Abraham Verghese, M.D., M.B.A., which was about the HIV/AIDS epidemic hitting the community where I did my medical school training. (This book is probably even more relevant these days and is still a great suggestion.) Now, with museums and public spaces closed in my new "hometown," I'll have to settle for reading about my new community to understand more about its culture, cuisine and history.

OTHER MEDIA

  • Extremis: This documentary, which can be found on Netflix, is 24 Academy Award-nominated minutes about end-of-life decisions and their effects on patients, families and health care professionals. This is definitely a tough one and not for a casual Friday night, but it is an extremely compelling snapshot of palliative medicine. Watching doctors work through end-of-life discussions with patients and families is unfortunately a glimpse into the future many of us face in the coming months. Especially amid the COVID-19 crisis, it's critical that we prepare ourselves not only for what we face during the day, but also for how it might affect us as physicians when we get home.
  • "How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime":(www.ted.com) I know many of you have already seen this TED Talk by California's first surgeon general, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., M.P.H. But just in case you haven't (or haven't recently), this video is one of the best explanations of the research around adverse childhood experiences for general consumption. It's good to remind ourselves that many of our patients have suffered unimaginable trauma, and that trauma has a profound effect on both their behavioral and physical health. We can't forget, even during a pandemic, how important it is to ask the questions we are often scared and underprepared to ask. We will all be privileged to hear patient stories and it's important we understand their impact.
  • "Social Distance":(www.theatlantic.com) I love this podcast -- as I've loved any and all content produced by James Hamblin, M.D., a preventive medicine physician and staff writer for The Atlantic, for several years. His articles are challenging and interesting (try the COVID-related episode "An Ethicist on How to Make Impossible Decisions"(www.theatlantic.com) or the more light-hearted pre-COVID article "The Power of One Push-Up"(www.theatlantic.com)) but they're also written with his signature sarcasm and wit. I used to watch his video series, "If Our Bodies Could Talk,"(www.theatlantic.com) in which he wryly explored topics such as sleep, sunscreen and the nuances of natural peanut butter. Although the video series was last produced in 2017, the information is still engaging and entertaining. And now, we have more of Dr. Hamblin to love in his "Social Distance" podcast, in which he and co-host Katherine Wells take us down pandemic rabbit holes such as examining what it's like to get COVID-19,(www.theatlantic.com) how much it costs to have COVID-19(www.theatlantic.com) and what it's like to have cancer during a global pandemic.(www.theatlantic.com)
  • NPR's "LifeKit":(www.npr.org) Oftentimes, I feel like I'm still a big kid who just graduated from the 20th grade. There's still so much about the world I find confusing or don't understand -- stocks, taxes, buying a house -- how does adulting even work? The "LifeKit" podcast is a guide to life skills and covers a variety of topics such as how to compost at home, how to remove stains from your clothes and how to start running. It's a series of 20-minute episodes that help you feel like a more confident, competent individual in the adult world. Although those of you who know me know I don't personally plan on picking up running any time soon (I'm more of a yoga gal), the episodes about how to start a garden(www.npr.org) and advice on creating a budget(www.npr.org) were helpful in improving my physical, emotional and financial wellness going into the next chapter of my life. Take a walk (or run if you really want to) while you listen and multitask.

Margaret Miller, M.D., M.P.H., is the student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 01:34PM May 14, 2020 by Margaret Miller, M.D., M.P.H.

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