A Tale of Guilt and Woe
June 2012. It was unseasonably miserable. Having successfully fought the battle of Neuro I was all ready for the next onslaught which manifested itself in the form of reproductive and endocrine medicine (us Bristolians have dubbed it EndoRepro which sounds more like an evil Mexican villain). I was making a trip to the library, which, at the time, was around a 30-minute walk away from my student house. This was to do some extra reading. I had my laptop in my bag along with my bags of Haribo for encouragement and when I’d stomached all I could take I began the walk back. It rained. It rained like I have never seen rain before. For 30 minutes, I walked in a torrential down pour and when I arrived at the local Sainsbury’s, they kicked me out because I was dripping that much I posed a health and safety risk on their tiled floor. It was a very miserable day.
When I had eventually gotten back into my room and put all my clothes to dry I stood there and thought – why. Why was I doing this to myself? It wasn’t even necessary and I’d put myself through a monsoon to go get some books and read ahead. The reason was because I’d have felt guilty if I hadn’t – I planned to do it, so I was doing it. Guilt is a very powerful thing and it’s something we all encounter as students on a regular basis. When I used to revise for my pre-clinical exams, if I stopped for an hour or two that meant I would have to extend my evening revision to cover the time. I should imagine everyone can relate to this (even those macho folk that profess to be invincible!). Stopping was not an option. In that rain-sodden day I learnt one thing – cut yourself some slack.
I never believed it when people used to say to me that “down time” was as important as work time. Down time was wasted time. Down time was a period when I missed that all-important sentence that answered MCQ Q22 on the upcoming exam. At the start of that unit I decided to take things differently. I always timetabled work, but this time I was only doing those timetabled slots if I thought it would be productive. If not, the time was better spent doing other things. If I started and felt like it was too much effort, I didn’t carry on in some marathon-like endurance exercise, I stopped. I refused to let the guilt set in. I turned my ears off to all of the talk in lectures about how much work everyone had or hadn’t done – I refused to let myself be intimidated.
So what was the result? I had much better sleep in that time. My head was a lot clearer and I found it about 100 times easier to get up for lectures in the morning. I spent a lot more time doing the things I enjoy which generally upped my motivation.
More to the point, I achieved the best set of results in two years in those exams.
I only wish I could go back to my fresher self and say:
“Cut yourself some slack. Don’t feel guilty. Do your own thing”.
Medical blogging is blogging in the field of medicine. It is a relatively recent addition to the medical field. While its closest predecessor medical journalism; is about 300 years old, medical blogging is currently about a decade old. This blogpost aims at exploring the field of medical blogging and comparing it to related disciplines when relevant. It examines some opinions of bloggers, and reviews some medical blogs aiming to infer reasons for blogging, derive technique or outline of blog and hopefully arriving at a conclusion to the future prospects of medical blogging.
Medicine is the practice of the art and science of healing 'ars medicina'. It is a branch of applied science, which started probably in the pre-historic era. The practice continued to flourish, specialise, sub-specialise and sub-sub-specialise.
The word blog is most probably derived from the contraction of the words 'web log' which is a form of website that is more interactive, allowing comments, tagging,and is displayed in counter-chronological order from the most recent at the top of the page. The term 'blog' is currently used as a noun as well as a verb. The aggregation of blogs is named 'blogosphere', and the blog writer is named 'blogger'. There are single author blogs and multi-author blogs, they are as diverse in there content as the diversity of the bloggers, with regards to form they can be written text, images, videos, sounds or combination of more than one medium. The term 'blogroll' is referred to blogs followed by a person. Blogging is just more than a decade old now. However, the number of blogs have been increasing exponentially at times. The concept of blogging is considered as one of the components of the concept of web 2.0.
Medical blogs refer to blogs that are primarily concerned with medical/health subjects. The name 'medical blog' is derived from content based taxonomic classification.
Medical blogs can be classified by author, there are blogs by physicians, nurses, patients, medical institutions, medical journals, and anonymous blogs. They can be classified by target audience as either to other doctors, patients and carers, general public or a combination of more than one target. There are also medical blogs by patients or patient blogs that expresses their viewpoints. A study examined medical student blogs and concluded that they might be beneficial for students to reflect on their experience (Pinilla et al, 2013). The Nephrology Dialysis and Transplantation (NDT)
made it own blog (El Nahas, 2012). The American Journal of Kidney Disorder (AJKD) made its own official blog (Desai et al, 2013). During the same year, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association launched their official blog (Sanossian & Merino, 2013). Pereira discussed the blogs by neurosurgeons (Pereira et al, 2012).
In the BMJ doc2doc blogs, they do not have to meet certain number of word count but will have to be reviewed prior to publication. KevinMD requires blog posts to be of maximum five hundred words, Medical-Reference require a minimum of one thousand words. Meducation requires a blog post to vary between 1500-3000 word. Independent blogs may show more variation in the number of words per blog post. Some blogs are predominantly in text format, other may combine multimedia or get linked to other medical blogs.
The BMJ doc2doc tentatively recommends blog posting to be in the frequency of one to two blogs/month. Chrislyn Pepper, a medical blog writer, (2013) states that medical blogging can aim to be 'three blogs of 300+ words each week and three to four short blogs of less than a hundred words five days per week.'
Medical bloggers seem to have various reasons to blog, some communicate clinical data to fellow doctors, in this case some blogs seem to resemble research or review articles in content and language which can contain medical jargon. There are diagnosis blogs that were studied by Miller and Pole (2010). The comparison between the electronic predecessors of blogging including Electronic Bulletin Board, USENET, and emailing in addition to the why of blogging in general has been discussed by Mongkolwat
(Mongkolwat et al, 2005). Some put their hypotheses forward, others share clinical experience or discuss a clinical matter. Some bloggers direct their attention to the general public providing information about medical topics. Some discuss issues which can be difficult to be put in research topics. Dr Rob discussed that importance of medical blogging as an equivalent to the concept of democracy in an online world. Doctor Blogger website offers 10 reasons for medical blogging including public education, correction of misconceptions and establishing a name. For the medical blogger's direct benefit Medical Rant blog offers an overview of personal benefits from medical blogging including stimulation of thought and stimulation of academic writing. Dr Wible seems to use her medical blog to promote a standard of care that seems to be a mix between the medical model and the befriending model of care. Another study examined the young adults blogging and concluded that powerlessness, loneliness, alienation, and lack of connection with others, where the primary outcomes of young adults as a result of mental health concerns (Eysenbach et al, 2012). Wolinsky (2011) enquires whether scientists should stick to popularizing science or more.
Medical blogs are essentially online activity which renders them immediately accessible to any area with internet connection, they are paperless by definition which makes them more environment friendly. The medical blogs are open access by default which adds to the accessibility, and they are decentralised which decreases control over the control and seems to accentuate diversity.
As compared to peer reviewed journals, medical blogs seem to be less referenced, are hardly ever taken as academic writing, the process of peer reviewed medical blogs is minimal if any, and they do not get reflected on resume or be considered as publication, though the term 'blogfolio' started to become a watch word. It seems hard to base clinical decisions on medical blogs. However, medical blogs can offer more diversity into research and non-research medical topics. They are published online with no delay or review time, they can comment on the most recent advances in the medical field or most contemporary issues instantaneously. Very recently, citing blogs seems to become a bit accepted. BMJ Journals have their dedicated blogs
Some online resources give a comprehensive outline on blogging in general and medical blogging in particular including video interview with a medical blogger
Michelle Guilemard in her blog makes a valid point of how medical blogging can enhance career. Medical Squid also highlighted medical blogging as a career
Kovic et al (2008) conducted a research on the medical blogosphere an concluded that 'Medical bloggers are highly educated and devoted blog writers, faithful to their sources and readers'. Miller & Pole (2010) concluded that 'Blogs are an integral part of this next stage in the development '. Stanwell-Smith (2013) discussed the aspect as an important tool to communicate with patients. The blur between academia and blogging was discussed in research blogs. (Sheema et al, 2012). During the same another study discussed the impact of blogging on research (Fausto et al, 2012).
While Baerlocher & Detsky (2008) warn in an article against the hazards of medical blogging due to potential breach of confidentiality. After an exhaustive study of the content of weblog written by health professional, Lagu reached the concern of breaching of confidentiality (Lagu et al, 2007). Rebecca Golden (2007) cites the perils of medical blogging she concludes her article saying 'Science has a peer-review process for a reason'. Brendan Koerner (2007) in wired magazines posted an article about the problems of giving medical advice via blogging. Dr Val Jones makes a point by concluding that social media provide the 'allure of influence'. Thomas Robey (2008) offers arguments for and against medical blogging, including confidentiality, and ruining personal reputation on the negative side, while enhancing democratization of conversation and having a creative outlet on the positive side. Brendel offers an intriguing discussion to whether it would be ethical or not to monitor patients' blog to determine their health status. (Brendel, 2012).
O'Reilly voiced in 2007 the need for blogging code of conduct. The GMC published guidance on the use of social media by doctors and it included blogging as a form of social media. The Royal College of General Practitioners also published the social media high way code to offer guidance on social media including medical blogging. There is also the medblog oath online.
Flaherty (2013) argues that blogging is under attack by micro-blogging, and that it is in its deathbed. Mike Myatt in his article Is Blogging Dead, discusses various views about blogging in an era of micro-blogging The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently introduced a number of blogs including the president's blog, overseas blogs and other blogs. The medical blogging seems to occupy a middle space between the quick micro-blogging and the thoughtful research article. Its diversity and freedom are its strongest tools and can have the potential to be its worst enemies. One wonders whether the emergence of guidelines for medical blogging – given the seriousness of the content – would save medical blogging and elevate it to the next level or change the essence of it. After all, the question is how much the medical field which is a top-down hierarchy accept grass-root movement. Freedom of expression is probably at the heart of blogging. It would be logistically impossible to impose rules on it. However, guidelines and code of honour may help delineating the quality of medical blogs from each other.
This post is previously posted on doc2doc blogs.
Bibliography & Blogiography
Brendel, D. Monitoring Blogs: A New Dilemma for Psychiatrists Journal of Ethics, American Medical Association, 2012, Vol. 14(6), pp. 441-444
Desai, T., S.M.A.N.V.S.K.T.J.K.C.K.B.E.J.K.D. The State of the Blog: The First Year of eAJKD Am J Kidney Dis., 2013, Vol. 61(1), pp. 1-2
El Nahas, M. An NDT blog Nephrol Dial Transplant (2012) 27: 3377–3378, 2012, Vol. 27, pp. 3377-3378
Eysenbach, G., B.K.M.M. What Are Young Adults Saying About Mental Health? An Analysis of
Internet Blogs Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2012, Vol. 14(1)
Fausto, S. Machado, F.B.L.I.A.N.T.M.D. Research Blogging: Indexing and Registering the Change in Science 2.0 PLoS one, 2012, Vol. 7(12), pp. 1-10
Lagu, T, K.E.J.D.A.A.A.K. Content of Weblogs Written by Health Professionals J Gen Intern Med, 2008, Vol. 23(10), pp. 1642–6
Miller, EA., P.A. Diagnosis Blog: Checking Up on Health Blogs in the Blogosphere American Journal of Public Health, 2010, Vol. 8, pp. 1514-1518
Mongkolwat, P. Kogan, A.K.J.C.D. Blogging Your PACS Journal of Digital Imaging, 2005, Vol. 18(4), pp. 326-332
Pereira, JLB., K.P. d.A.L. d.C.G. d.S.A. Blogs for neurosurgeons Surgical Neurology International, 2012, Vol. 3:62
Pinilla, S. Weckbach, L.A.S.B.H.N.D.S.K.T.S. Blogging Medical Students: A Qualitative Analysis
Hey guys! I’m Nicole and I’m a second year medical student at Glasgow University. I’ve decided to start this blog to write about my experiences as a med student and the difficulties I encounter along the way, hopefully giving you something you can relate to.
Since June of last year I have been suffering with a personal illness, with symptoms of persistent nausea, gastric pain and lethargy. At first I thought it was just a bug that would pass on fairly quickly, but as the summer months went on it was clear that this illness wasn’t going to disappear overnight.
I spent my summer going through a copious amount of medications in hope that I’d feel better for term starting. I visited my GP several times and had bloods taken regularly. After 2 months, I finally got given a diagnosis; I had a helicobacter pylori infection. I started eradication therapy for a week and although it made my symptoms worse, I was positive would make me better and I’d be well again within the week.
The week passed with no improvements in my condition. Frustrated, I went back to my GP who referred me for an endoscopy. Term started back the next week and despite feeling miserable I managed to drag myself out to every lecture, tutorial and lab. Within a few weeks I began to fall behind in my work, doing the bare minimum required to get through. Getting up each morning was a struggle and forcing myself to sit in lectures despite the severe nausea I was experiencing was becoming a bigger challenge each day.
In October I went for my endoscopy which, for those of you that don't know, is a horribly uncomfortable procedure. My family and friends assured me that this would be the final stage and I’d be better very very soon. The results came back and my GP gave me a different PPI in hope that it would fix everything.
I waited a few weeks and struggled through uni constantly hoping that everything would magically get better. I gave up almost all my extra-circular activities which for me, the extrovert I am, was possibly the hardest part of it all. I wanted to stay in bed all the time and I become more miserable every day. I was stressing about falling behind in uni and tensions began to build up in my personal life. It got to the point where I couldn’t eat a meal without it coming back up causing me to lose a substantial amount of weight. I got so stressed that I had to leave an exam to throw up. I was truly miserable.
I seen a consultant just before Christmas who scheduled me in for some scans, but it wasn’t until January. I was frustrated at how long this was going on for and I thought it was about time I told the medical school about my situation. They were very understanding and I was slightly surprised at just how supportive they were. I contacted my head of year who arranged a visit with me for January.
During the Christmas break I had a chance to relax and forget about everything that was stressing me. I got put on a stronger anti-sickness medication which, surprisingly, seemed to work. The tensions in my life that had built up in the last few months seemed to resolve themselves and I began to feel a lot more positive!
I met with my head of year just last week who was encouraged by my newly found positive behaviour. We’ve agreed to see how things progress over the next few months, but things are looking a lot brighter than before. I’ve taken on a new attitude and I’m determined to work my hardest to get through this year. I’m currently undertaking an SSC so I have lots of free time to catch up on work I missed during the last term.
My head of year has assured me that situations like the one I’m in happen all the time and I’m definitely not alone. I feel better knowing that the medical school are behind me and are willing to help and support me through this time.
The most important thing I have taken from this experience is the fact that you’ll never know the full extent of what a patient is going through. Illness effects different people in different ways and it may not just be a persons health thats affected, it can affect all aspects of their life. This experience has definitely opened my eyes up and hopefully I’ll be able to understand patients’ situations a little better.
Last week in my personal blog I reflected on humility as defined by James Ryle:
God given self-assurance that eliminates the need to prove to others the worth of who you are and the rightness of what you do.
Ryle suggests, from 1 Peter 5:5-7, that central to humbling ourselves is throwing our cares on to God. Every concern, care and fear being hurled on to God who is faithful and powerful enough to handle them. When we know that we are loved by Him no matter what and that He is in control no matter what, then we remove the need to prove ourselves or protect ourselves. We become humble – secure enough to allow God to be in control and to serve others. Once our eyes are lifted from ourselves we are able to see others to love and serve them.
Just before writing the last post I was reading an article about the report by Robert Francis QC on the appalling treatment of patients at Stafford Hospital. One of the recurring comments made by many different people is that the pressure of targets and incentives increasingly displaces focus on compassion and patient care. When doctors, nurses and managers alike are bombarded with ever increasing and regularly changes hoops to jump through and targets to meet, no wonder their attention and efforts are dragged from patient care.
I’ve seen something of the effects of this in a family member who for many years worked as a Health Visitor. In their decades of service they saw an ever increasing and ever changing string of targets and goals alongside cost cutting moves that stripped resources and personnel. Their desire to be compassionate and offer the best care possible became more and more stressful until it finally proved too much. She recently changed jobs.
Now I’m not trying to attack the NHS and I am well aware that so many people receive great care. But this is not a new concern that is being bandied around with fresh vigour in the light of Stafford Hospital. What struck me is that it demonstrates on an institutional level what also seems true at a personal level. Namely, that when we are forced to operate from a place of insecurity we begin to miss the most important things. NHS services have to meet targets to receive funding to simply keep operating – there will be no patient care if there is no hospital. Oftentimes, especially as a leader, we can live with a sense that, unless we meet expectations or make people like us or recognise our worth, then we’ll have no influence to do any of the things we know we are called to do.
The secret of personal humility is to recognise that we are already loved by our Father before we even move our finger; to recognise that He is control and we can throw every care on Him. A person who can live from that place of security finds, free from the need to prove themselves or their actions, can begin to simply do what they are made and called to do. They are no longer pulled in different directions by a multiplicity of cares. What about an institution?
It strikes me that a similar solution is needed for the NHS. Is there a way to give security for doctors, nurses and caring professionals so that they are able to do what they are called to do without constantly watching their back? Obviously there is a need for accountability for the safety of patients and to ensure a good standard of care, but the constant need to prove worth and achievement cannot be helpful for those who are called to compassionate care.
I’m not a healthcare professional. I don’t know exactly what this would look like. But I recognise in the diagnosis of struggles in the NHS, God’s diagnosis of struggles in many people’s lives. The way He designed us to live with Him is often a good basis to begin to imagine a new way for every level of society to function.
So, my question is this: what would a humble NHS look like? To whom could a National Health Service throw it’s concerns and cares?