Sex in the Sciences

I was invited to participate on a panel in a session called “Sex in the Sciences” at the 8th Annual Midwest/Great Lakes Undergraduate Research Symposium in Neuroscience hosted by The Ohio State University on October 22. There were 31 colleges and universities that participated this year from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Each year a different college or university would host the annual meeting and it allows students in Neurosciences to present their research projects. The goal of the panel was to have an informal discussion with 190 student participants to discuss professions that were considered “nontraditional” for that gender.

Our panel consisted of three other people which included Dr. Georgia Bishop, vice-chairman of the Department of Neuroscience, Dr. Kathryn Lenz, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Nicholas Baggett, nurse practitioner (NP) with M.A. in mental health. We each gave an introduction to our educational background and our career trajectory to promote awareness of the issues we faced in our education and careers as well as expose the participants to role models in science.            Dr. Bishop had shared that when she started out in neuroscience she was told by a professor that “women have not succeeded in this field”.  She proved him wrong by succeeding and she had gained the respect of her fellow male graduate students by spending the same amount of time and effort as they did.            Nicholas Baggett stated that patients often assume that he is a doctor because he is male.  He said that being a white male he has experienced what it was like to be a “minority” in nursing.

What qualities are needed to succeed in undergraduate or graduate education? We had excellent audience participation and questions from them. Nicholas Baggett recommended critical thinking along with mastery of writing. He noted that people may think that writing is not an important skill set in the sciences or health care field, but it is used daily in his work. I shared that developing effective communication skills is very important in any areas of study and career choice along with perseverance.  I recommended that they keep a goal in sight and not to give up on that goal even if there is a roadblock and to look for another way to achieve the goal.  Dr. Lenz had shared that she has had days when she has felt like quitting the work that she does, but with resilience she had been able continue to work in her field and find fulfillment in it.

What is success? We discussed the question of success in our fields and we agreed that success is based on what each individual feels is important in his/her life. The commonality shared by the panel is that our education and career goals may not have always followed a straight path and we had all encountered challenges along the way, but we found mentors in our fields that help us achieve our goals.  We did not allow our gender to dictate what we should be doing, but used it to help us to pave the path to our goals.  We now serve as mentors to students and others to help them achieve their goals.

by Edith Chang, M.D.

Brain Gain – Gate not Weight

brain-grows-with-knowledgeSpencer Turner MD, received the above question from a student in the 70s about the brain.  He had been told, by a high school teacher, that the more a person learns the heavier the brain becomes. He wondered if, after a couple of semesters, his brain was becoming heavier and if this would impact him medically.  I’m assuming he was wondering about supporting his soon to be enormous brain on his neck and back.  Ok – so just to debunk this myth, his high school teach was WRONG.

According to WebMD the human adult brain weighs approximately 3 pounds which is about 2% of body weight.  At age 2 the brain has reached 80% or so of its adult size.  Maximum size is reached between 19 and 21. Although growth in size has stopped, development of the brain continues for several more years. The neural connections (gateways) continue to form, change, and redirect when confronted with new experiences and ideas.

Conclusion –  the brain will not increase in weight while you are studying those calculus equations, but it will increase in gate, forming, changing, and redirecting those neural connections.

Oh – and about Einstein’s brain.  A study was conducted of his brain in 1999 based upon images taken at the time of his death.  Despite what a high school geometry teacher might say, Einstein did not have a larger than normal brain.  In fact it was a bit smaller than most.  His parietal lobes, linked to math ability, however, were 15% wider than most.

Here are some other tidbits WebMD has to offer on the brain:

  • There are 100 billion brain cells, most of which are present from birth to death.
  • A good night’s sleep allows your brain to store memories – good to know as finals approach.
  • Multitasking is not really multitasking after all, instead the brain switches quickly from 1 task to another.
  • The best way to keep the brain fit is with exercise. Learn new skills or do mental tasks.

Original Lantern article can be viewed in the Lantern Archives.

Study Smarter – Not Longer

 

Finals are quickly approaching and there are just not enough hours in the day to finish all of your papers and study for exams.  What can you do to get that top grade?  WebMD reports the following:

  • Log off Facebook: A recent study at The Ohio State University found that students who use Facebook spend less time studying and as a result have a lower GPA than those who do not frequent the social media site.
  • Change Locations: Studies show that you retain more information if you very your studying locations. Part of what your brain does when processing your notes and readings is to connect it to the environment you are in. By changing locations you associate the material with a lot of different cues which gives you more triggers for retrieving the information. Just make sure the locations you choose are free of distractions so you can concentrate.
  • Take Naps: A study in Israel found that sleeping for 90 minutes after learning new information helps to cement this knowledge into your long term memory.
  • Space Out: Retention rates are better when you allow yourself time to forget information and relearn rather than pulling an all-nighter or trying to cram it all in the day before. Instead read through your notes say 4 days ahead of time, then again 3 days ahead of time, then 2 days, etc.
  • Exercise: Short bursts of exercise, such as jumping jacks or push-ups improves the ability to remember information you just learned. Nothing big, as little as 6 minutes will do the trick.

If you want to read this article, it can be found in the Fall 2013 WebMD Campus magazine.

Wash those germs right off of your hands!

Have you ever considered the door knobs/handles in your dorm?  Think about it for a minute.  How many people live in your dorm?  All of those people are going in and out of the dorm, perhaps multiple times each day and every time they do they are touching those knobs/handles.  And then you come along and you touch that knob/handle.  You have just exposed yourself to the germs that were on the hands of everyone else who used that knob/handle – YUCK!

Now consider the door knobs/handles of your classrooms and buildings.  How many people are taking classes in those buildings?  Again, every time you touch that knob/handle you are exposing yourself to the germs that were on the hands of everyone else who used that knob/handle – again YUCK!

Is it any wonder that college students get sick?!!  The most effective thing you can do to avoid getting sick, according to the CDC, is to wash your hands.  Frequent washing will help to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. 

What is the right way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Don’t underestimate the power of hand washing! The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to Student Health Services.

Submitted by Tina Comston, M.Ed.

Take it from Ben Franklin, Get Vaccinated!

wikimedia commons

Just came across an excellent and timely essay about immunization in the New York Times written by Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan.

Even though Dr. Markel is from that school up north, he knows what he’s talking about.  There are a lot of ill-informed people out there today saying that vaccines do terrible things, cause terrible disease and are a conspiracy by the medical-industrial complex to invade our bodily fluids.  Now, apparently, they also violate the Founding Fathers’ principles upon which our great nation is built. 

But using little things like facts, research and evidence, Dr. Markel proves that once again these people know not of what they speak.  Vaccines save lives.  They prevent horrible disability.  They keep pandemic illness from speading like wild fire through communities.  When people don’t get vaccinated, they not only put themselves at risk, they put you and your loved ones at risk too.  

But don’t take it from me, or even Dr. Markel.  Take it from Ben Franklin, who also lived in a time when there was a lot of vitriol and controversy surrounding vaccination:

In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way.  I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation.  This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it, my example showing that the regret may be the same either way and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.

The above photo is of a young girl in Bangladesh who was infected with smallpox in 1973.  6 years later, the World Health Organization officially delared its eradication.  Thanks to immunizations, we’ll never have to see suffering this horrible again. 

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

What a patient’s death taught me, and what it can teach you

Cancer Vixen

One of the very first patients I cared for as a medical student here at Ohio State was a young man with end-stage AIDS.  Since there wasn’t much to do for him medically; and since AIDS still made lots of people – including doctors – pretty antsy at the time; and since a 3rd year medical student is about as useful on the wards as a screen door is on a submarine, he quickly became “my” patient.

He and I spent a lot of time together as he succumbed to the cruel attacks being waged against his weakened immune system.  He was scared; I was scared; he was pissed off at dying with only a clueless med student for company; I was pissed off at being so useless.

So we talked.  Or rather, he talked and I listened.  It was driving me nuts to not be “doing” anything, and as his condition detioriated the stories became less and less coherent, but I discovered something pretty amazing.  It helped.  It didn’t cure him, or even forestall his death, but it helped ease his suffering in a very real way.  It’s one of the most important lessons I learned in all of my years of medical training.

That is why I am very excited to announce that Professor Jim Phelan and I are offering a new course next quarter: English 361, Narrative and Medicine.  Not only will the class fulfill an arts & humanities GEC requirement, it will allow you to explore how telling and listening to stories of illness – yours or someone else’s – can often be more helpful than any medication or surgery.  The course will also offer some distinctive views of illness and treatment and how both patients and practitioners deal with their experiences.

It should be a great class.  Professor Phelan is a world-renowned expert in the field of Narrative Studies and a winner of the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award.  I will bring my perspective as someone who practices both the art of medicine and the art of narrative.  We’ll investigate a range of perspectives offered by classic writers such as Tolstoy and Chekhov as well as those offered by some contemporary writers employing new narrative forms such as Marissa Marchetto in her graphic memoir Cancer Vixen

BTW, if you’re interested in hearing more about my experience with that patient, I wrote an essay about it in the Los Angeles Times a few years ago.  Or better yet – enroll in English 361!

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

What cats can teach you about staying healthy

swapmeetdave.com

Are you stressed out?  Have you ever noticed that when things are the most hectic in your life, darn it if you don’t end up with the sniffles? 

Stress has been tied to a number of health conditions in humans, and now researchers at our very own College of Veterinary Medicine have shown that even cats respond to stress in their lives with an increased incidence of chronic illness.  The less stress the cats in the study had, the less sick they got.  So how do you de-stress a cat?  By providing a comfortable living environment, a consistent daily routine and attention from a caregiver. 

So take it from the kitties.  Try to find a healthy, consistent routine in your life (regular meals, regular sleep and regular exercise), share some TLC with a good friend or partner and always keep your litter box clean.  It’s the best way to stay away out of the vet’s… I mean doctor’s office.

Roger Miller, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

Is the Pink Ribbon starting to chafe?

The New York Times

I just read a fantastic essay from this Sunday’s New York Times about the impact that breast cancer Awareness (with a capital “A”) has had on victims of the disease.  The author, Peggy Orenstein, herself a survivor, argues that the real experiences of real women with cancer are getting lost among all of the pink football cleats and teddy bears, and that the “sexualization” of breast cancer is doing more harm than good.

I wrote an essay for Harlot of the Arts (an online journal run by rhetoricians in our very own English Department) that touches on exactly the same themes, but with a focus on how they affect the relationship between patients and their doctors.

Whether or not you have any personal experience with breast cancer – whether or not you have breasts – you should check out these essays.  They’re not really about breast cancer.  They’re about the fact that your relationship to your health, your body, your doctor, even your loved ones can be manipulated in invisible but powerful ways.  And that, my friends, is definitely something to be aware of.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

I say to thee, Achoo!

Gerardus Cremonensis, Wikimedia

BuckMD is delighted to welcome Sarah Kernan to our blog. Sarah is a PhD student in medieval studies here at The Ohio State University. Her area of specialization is late medieval French and English food and cookbooks. Now, it might not seem like medieval cookbooks and student health have a lot in common. Wrong. Read. Learn. That’s why you came to college, after all. -Victoria Rentel MD

As a medievalist, my mind often wanders to daily life in the Middle Ages.  With cold and flu season upon us, I have been thinking about how people in the Middle Ages tried to stay or become healthy by eating right.

Just as people today turn to nutritional information in books or online, literate people in the Middle Ages turned to books of health and nutrition advice called “regimens of health” and “dietaries.”  One extraordinarily popular regimen of health was the Regimen sanitatis salernitatum, a twelfth-century poem about hygiene and diet dedicated to the king of England.

Eating right in medieval Europe meant balancing four bodily humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Each of these humors had a combination of hot, cold, moist, or dry characteristics.  Imbalanced bodily humors could be balanced by foods which contained opposite characteristics.  Ingredients were often selected for their humoral properties.  Foods that could potentially be dangerous to eat, such as eel – an extremely cold and moist fish – could be remedied and balanced by a warming and drying sauce containing ingredients such as pepper or garlic, rendering it healthy for consumption.

Medieval cookbooks often contained recipes called “sickdishes” for foods that could be easily eaten and digested by picky eaters, convalescents, or someone suffering from a nonspecific illness.  These dishes contain more sugar, nuts, and chicken than regular recipes. The chicken and nuts – especially almonds – had balanced humoral properties similar to the balanced humors of a healthy human.  Sugar was thought to purify blood.  It was the most common item in sickdishes, but rarely was an ingredient in regular food preparations.

Strange combinations of food were thought to restore health and wellness to the sick.  I am, however, comforted to know that my sickdish of choice, chicken noodle soup, would have been approved by medieval physicians.

Sarah Peters Kernan

kernan.7@buckeyemail.osu.edu

Blanc mengier d’un chappon: An Invalid’s White Dish of Capon

Cook a capon in water until it is well done; grind a great quantity of almonds together thoroughly with the dark meat of the capon, steep this in your broth, put everything through the strainer and set it to boil until it is thick enough to slice; then dump it into a bowl. Then sautee a half-dozen skinned almonds and sit them on end on one half of your dish, and on the other half put pomegranate seeds with a sprinkling of sugar on top.”

Terence Scully, The Vivendier: A Critical Edition with English Translation (Totnes, England: Prospect Books, 1997): 291.