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Lucas Brammar

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Medical Student
I am a 3rd year medical student who has just completed an intercalated year in Anatomy. My main interests are in anatomy, pathology, academic medicine and (anatomical) medical education. As a student I try and keep my interests as broad as possible. I have an active interest in research and am conducting research in autoimmunity, neuropathology and musculoskeletal science.
Foo20151013 2023 1dytm0m?1444773998

Brain: Friend or Foe?

Lucas Brammar
about 9 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 fkplre?1444774007

Pathological Priorities

Previously I blogged about the 'stigma' and discrimination often faced by those confronting mental illness - even by colleagues. It was incredibly apt, therefore, that just a week later, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) published their "Parity" report. The report entitled Whole Person Care: from rhetoric to reality calls for an equality in physical vs mental health. As with many of my colleagues, I saw the word "Whole Person Care" and was instantly guilty of a pre-formed stereotype. I don't like the term whole person care nor holistic medicine. I hear these terms and my thoughts instantly switch to bright colours, 60s attire and I start humming "this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius". More so, this topic becomes riddled with questionable pseuodoscience and tentative nods to evidence-less forms of complimentary medicine. I think such terms are perhaps self destructive and instantly mark out mental health as odd. Ambiguous terms such as this make the whole topic even more off putting. Holistic rants aside, this report is an exceptionally important read (or at least glance) for all future doctors. There is an unquestionable inequality in mental and physical health in this country. It seems that if we can't 'see' something, it's not quantifiable and therefore loses a position of importance. It leads us to have 'pathological priorities', putting the physical before the mental. Despite this, both influence one another and deserve equal importance. Some of the key points of the report are: A call for equal funding of Mental and Physical Health Services A call to reduce discrimination and stigmas associated with Mental Health A call for equal care and treatment of Mental health/Physical Health A call for management and leaders (such as commissioning boards)to acknowledge the equality of mental/physical health Perhaps the most important for myself as I read through this was a call for equal access to Mental Health treatments under NICE clinical guidelines. Currently, patients have the right to receive only mental health treatments which have undergone NICE technology appraisals - not those offered by clinical guidelines. For example, NICE Clinical Guidelines state talk therapies are more effective than instant antidepressants for treatment of mild depression. The report is a huge step toward equality in mental and physical health. Perhaps we should all just take a moment to address the importance of both. You can read the full report and a summary on the RCPsych website here:  
Lucas Brammar
about 9 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 1njk26?1444774138

Doctor or a scientist?

"One special advantage of the skeptical attitude of mind is that a man is never vexed to find that after all he has been in the wrong" Sir William Osler Well, it's almost Christmas. I know it's Christmas because the animal skeleton situated in the reception of my University's Anatomy School has finally been re-united with his (or her?) Christmas hat, has baubles for eyes and tinsel on its ribcage. This doesn't help with my trying to identify it (oh the irony if it is indeed a reindeer). This term has probably been one of the toughest academic terms I've had, but then when you intercalate that is sort of what you choose to let yourself in for. I used to think that regular readings were a chore in the pre-clinical years. I had ample amounts of ethics, sociology and epidemiology readings to do but this is nothing compared to the world of scientific papers. The first paper I had to read this term related to Glycosaminoglycan (GAG) integrity in articular cartilage and its possible role in the pathogenesis of Osteoarthritis. Well, I know that now. When I first started reading it felt very much like a game of boggle and highly reminiscent of high school spanish lessons where I just sat and nodded my head. This wasn't the end. Every seminar has come with its own prescribed reading list. The typical dose is around 4-5 papers. This got me thinking. We don't really spend all that much time understanding how to read scientific papers nor do we really explore our roles as 'scientists' as well as future clinicians. Training programmes inevitably seem to create false divides between the 'clinicans' and the 'academics' and sometimes this has negative consequences - one simply criticises the other: Doctors don't know enough about science, academics are out of touch with the real world etc... Doctors as scientists... The origins of medicine itself lie with some of the greatest scientists of all time - Herophilus, Galen, Da Vinci, William Harvey (the list is endless). As well as being physicians, all of these people were also respected scientists who regularly made contributions to our understanding of the body's mechanics. Albeit, the concept of ethics was somewhat thrown to the wind (Herophilus, though dead for thousands of years, is regularly accused of performing vivisections on prisoners in his discovery of the duodenum). Original sketches by William Harvey which proved a continuous circuit of blood being supplied and leaving the upper limb. He used his observations to explain the circulatory system as we know it today What was unique about these people? The ability to challenge what they saw. They made observations, tested them against their own knowledge and asked more questions - they wanted to know more. As well as being doctors, we have the unique opportunity to make observations and question what we see. What's causing x to turn into y? What trends do we see in patients presenting with x? The most simple question can lead to the biggest shift in understanding. It only took Semmelweiss to ask why women were dying in a maternity ward to give rise to our concept of modern infection control. Bad Science... Anyone who has read the ranting tweets, ranting books and ranting YouTube TED videos of academic/GP Ben Goldacre will be familiar with this somewhat over used term. Pseudoscience (coined by the late great Karl Popper) is a much more sensible and meaningful term. Science is about gathering evidence which supports your hypothesis. Pseudoscience is a field which makes claims that cannot be tested by a study. In truth, there's lots and lots of relatively useless information in print. It's fine knowing about biomarker/receptor/cytokine/antibody/gene/transcription factor (insert meaningless acronym here) but how is it relevant and how does it fit into the bigger picture? Science has become reductionist. We're at the gene level and new reducing levels of study (pharmacogenetics) break this down even further and sometimes, this is at an expense of providing anything useful to your clinicial toolbox. Increasing job competition and post-graduate 'scoring' systems has also meant there's lots of rushed research in order to get publications and citations. This runs the danger of further undermining the doctors role as a true contributor to science. Most of it is wrong... I read an article recently that told me at least 50% of what I learn in medical school will be proven wrong in my lifetime. That might seem disheartening since I may have pointlessly consumed ample coffee to revise erroneous material. However, it's also exciting. What if you prove it wrong? What if you contributed to changing our understanding? As a doctor, there's no reason why you can't. If we're going to practice evidence-based medicine then we need to understand that evidence and doing this requires us to wear our scientist hat. It would be nice to see a whole generation of doctors not just willing to accept our understanding but to challenge that which is tentative. That's what science is all about. Here's hoping you don't find any meta-analyses in your stockings. Merry Christmas.  
Lucas Brammar
over 8 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 1nh0xw?1444774170

A Comedy of Errors

Great people make mistakes. Unfortunately, medicine is a subject where mistakes are not tolerated. Doctors are supposed to be infallible; or, at least, that is the present dogma. Medical students regularly fall victim to expecting too much of themselves, but this is perhaps not a bad trait when enlisting as a doctor. If it weren’t for mistakes in our understanding, then we wouldn’t progress. Studying a BSc in Anatomy has exposed me to the real world of science – where the negative is just as important as the positive. What isn’t there is just as important as what is. If you look into the history of Anatomy, it truly is a comedy of errors. So, here are three top mistakes by three incredibly influential figures who still managed to be remembered for the right reasons. 3. A Fiery Stare Culprit: Alcmaeon of Croton Go back far enough and you’ll bump into someone called Alcmaeon. Around the 5th century, he was one of the first dissectors – but not an anatomist. Alcmaeon was concerned with human intellect and was desperately searching for the seat of the soul. He made a number of major errors - quite understandable for his time! Alcmaeon insisted that sleep occurs when the blood vessels filled and we wake when they empty. Perhaps the most outrageous today is the fact that he insisted the eyes contained water both fire and water… Don’t be quick to mock. Alcmaeon identified the optic tract, the brain as the seat of the mind (along with Herophilus) and the Eustachian tubes. 2. Heart to Heart Culprit: Claudius Galen Legend has it that Galen’s father had a dream in which an angel/deity visited him and told him that his son would be a great physician. That would have to make for a pretty impressive opening line in a personal statement by today’s standards. Galen was highly influential on modern day medicine and his treatise of Anatomy and healing lasted for over a thousand years. Many of Galen’s mistakes were due to his dissections of animals rather than humans. Unfortunately, dissection was banned in Galen’s day and where his job as physician to the gladiators provided some nice exposed viscera to study, it did not allow him to develop a solid foundation. Galen’s biggest mistake lay in the circulation. He was convinced that blood flowed in a back and forth, ebb-like motion between the chambers of the heart and that it was burnt by muscle for fuel. Many years later, great physician William Harvey proposed our modern understanding of circulation. 1. The Da Vinci Code Culprit: Leonardo Da Vinci If you had chance to see the Royal Collection’s latest exhibition then you were in for a treat. It showcased the somewhat overlooked anatomical sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci. A man renowned for his intelligence and creativity, Da Vinci also turns out to be a pretty impressive anatomist. In his sketches he produces some of the most advanced 3D representations of the human skeleton, muscles and various organs. One theory of his is, however, perplexing. In his sketches is a diagram of the spinal cord……linked to penis. That’s right, Da Vinci was convinced the two were connected (no sexist comments please) and that semen production occurred inside the brain and spinal cord, being stored and released at will. He can be forgiven for the fact that he remarkably corrected himself some years later. His contributions to human physiology are astounding for their time including identification of a ‘hierarchal’ nervous system, the concept of equal ‘inheritence’ and identification of the retina as a ‘light sensing organ’. The list of errors is endless. However, they’re not really errors. They’re signposts that people were thinking. All great people fail, otherwise they wouldn’t be great.  
Lucas Brammar
over 8 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 3mtc8f?1444774190

A Tale of Guilt and Woe

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”.  
Lucas Brammar
over 8 years ago

Do medics need to get over themselves?

Lucas Brammar
about 8 years ago
Foo20151013 2023 vzuuwz?1444774280

Beating the Bully

I read an article recently that 90% of surgical trainees have experienced bullying of one form or other in their practice. That’s 90%. That’s shocking. Worryingly it is highly likely that this statistic is not purely isolated to surgery. This is evidence of a major problem that needs to be addressed. We don’t accept bullying in schools and in the workplace policies are in place to stop bullying and harassment– so why have 90% of trainees experienced bullying? I can relate to this from personal experience, as I am sure most of us can. Prior to intercalating I had always had the typical med student ambition of joining the big league and taking on surgery. I had a keen interest in anatomy, I had decided to intercalate in anatomy, I did an SSC on surgical robotics, presented at an undergraduate surgical conference and had a small exposure to surgery in my first couple of years that gave me enough drive to take on a competitive career path. I took it upon myself to try and arrange a brief summer attachment where I would learn as a clinical medical student what it is like to scrub in and be in theatre. At the beginning I was so excited. At the end every time someone mentioned surgery I felt sick. It became apparent very quickly that I was an inconvenience. I think medical students all get this feeling – ‘being in the way’ - but this was different. This was being made to feel deliberately uncomfortable. I asked if I could have some guidance on scrubbing in and this was met with a complete huff and annoyance because I didn’t know how to do it properly (thank goodness for a lovely team of theatre nurses!). I even got assigned a pet name for the week – the ‘limpet’ (notable for their clinging on to rocks) that was frequently used as a humiliation tactic in front of colleagues. By the end of the week I dreaded walking into the hospital and felt physically sick every morning. Now some people might say ‘man up’ and get on with it. Fair enough, but I’m a fairly resilient character and it takes a lot to make me feel like I did that week. This experience completely eradicated any ambition I had at the time to go into surgery. Since then I’ve focused elsewhere and generally dreaded surgical rotations until very recently where I managed to meet a wonderful orthopaedic team who were incredibly encouraging. Bullying can be subjective. Just because a consultant asks you a difficult question doesn’t mean they’re bullying you. By and large clinicians want to stretch you and trigger buttons that make you go and look things up. If it drives you to work and develops you as a professional then it’s not bullying, but if it makes you feel rubbish, sick or less about yourself then you should perhaps think twice about the way you’re being treated. Of course bullying doesn’t stop at professionals. Psychological bullying is rife in medical schools. We’ve all been ‘psyched out’ by our peers – how much do you know? How did you know that when I didn’t? Intimidating behaviour can be just as aggressive. Americans dub these people ‘Gunners’ although we’ve been rather nice and adopted the word ‘keen’ instead. Luckily most medical schools have a port of call for this sort of behaviour. But a word of advice – don’t let anyone shrug it off. If it’s a problem, if it’s affecting you – tell someone. Bullying individuals that are trying to learn and develop as professionals is entirely unacceptable. If you would like to share similar experiences, drop them in the comments box below.  
Lucas Brammar
almost 8 years ago