Resources & Information


Take time to keep learning

Dear W,

You would have really enjoyed a speaker I heard last night at our county medical society's annual meeting. It was Erik Weihenmayer, the blind man who climbed Mount Everest last May. As a climber yourself, you understand better than I what a feat that was. Although there were naysayers, Erik attributed his success largely to the many people who encouraged him. He pointed out that "encourage" is a meaningful word -- to instill or imbue with courage. I wish I had thought of that word when I wrote you a couple of months ago about taking time to comfort. Maybe it would have
been better to describe that concept as taking time to encourage rather than necessarily to comfort.

Ah, hindsight!

This time I wanted to urge you to always "take time to continue learning." It occurred to me that this should be our next concept when I found myself, at midnight after that dinner meeting, looking up "congenital retinoschisis," the disorder Erik explained had blinded him by age 13. When I could not find it in my trusty textbooks, I engaged in that twenty-first century vice and got on line in the middle of the night! Now, that is not a very good example and I will disavow it in the "take time to live healthy" letter yet to come! I have learned a lot from my partner, Bob, about how to use the
Internet for many purposes, but primarily for learning., the search engine he suggested, told me all about "congenital retinoschisis" in milliseconds! Check it out!

W, you might respond that, of course, you will continue learning since you still have a few years before certification, but I mean after that. Once you are fully trained and certified, it is still crucial to "keep up." The pace of progress in medicine has been dizzying. Of the 30 or so medications that I routinely prescribe, only about 10 were available when I finished training 10 years ago! Also, patients are much better informed now, mainly because of the Internet, and many are interested in alternative treatment methods about which allopathic physicians receive little if any education. Reading, listening, and learning constantly are the only ways I know to be able to continue to answer their questions competently and without having to resort to those weapons of insecurity--defensiveness and condescension. The North Carolina Medical Board now requires North Carolina physicians to earn 150 hours of continuing medical education credit over three years to maintain their licenses. Happily, most doctors don't need such a requirement to keep them learning because most of us are compulsive students, driven by a desire to know, a deep curiosity. This is nobly portrayed in Rembrandt van Rijn's (1606-1669) painting, Philosopher Reading, which hangs in the Nationalmuseum/Stockholm, though you could settle for seeing it on line at Many physicians are endlessly stimulated by a child-like wonder at the biological sciences we study and a sense of personal satisfaction, perhaps even joy, at gaining new knowledge or skills. Continuing to learn is also good for your brain; try "nuns and longevity" on your search engine!

Having studied languages that are really not useful to me now, I am trying to learn Spanish, a skill that is increasingly important for communicating with many of my patients. My Hispanic patients have been my main teachers, of course, but I am using tapes in the car and a Spanish immersion course on CD-ROM. You, clever thing, have been speaking Spanish since infancy, so you would not have been as baffled as I when my moderately retarded patient said “Dame cinco!” First she asked it playfully, then a bit louder, then with distress, and finally rocking and whimpering tearfully while her parents shook their heads to my question and tried to hush and distract her so she would not bother me. When the meaning ("Give me five!") finally dawned in my old brain and I did it, her relief and smile were beautiful, as was the accompanying quiet! Often, Hispanic patients do speak English or an interpreter is available for your medical visits, but knowing at least a little about the Hispanic cultures and speaking a little Spanish will certainly build your relationships with your patients and add fun to your day.

The more you learn through reading, listening,and experience, the more confident, capable, and intuitive a physician you will become. Erik Weihenmayer, whom I think should be called Erik the Encourager, related that he learned from the Sherpas that your mind is like water: if you do not disturb it, it will become clear. That seems especially true if that mind is deeper than a shallow puddle
and is already full of knowledge and, even more importantly, curiosity!

Give hugs to your family for me, and keep studying!