Hand holding and the medical student (Five by 8 – 9/15/10)

1) Tired of the same-old health care debate? Try this new brouhaha: Doctors holding the hand of patients. A doctor wrote an essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, recounting the time he held the hand of a dying cancer patient to — apparently — the consternation of his medical students.

However, courses on doctoring and the opportunity to interact with patients also provide us with essential tools to explore the interpersonal fabric that exists between physician and patient; and help us understand how to provide comfort to patients as they attempt to cope with serious illness and impending death. While I have enjoyed the vast amount of science that I have learned this past year, the most memorable and the greatest lessons from my first year of medical school are embodied in this sort of encounter. I suspect that it may take a whole career to master the science of disease and balance it with both the science and art of patient interaction.

The medical students apparently thought holding a patient’s hand violates their personal space. A commenter on the New York Times’ health blog begs to differ:

One of the most difficult things about an illness, particularly one that requires extended hospitalization, extensive testing, and/or visits to a variety of specialists, is that you stop feeling like a human being and start feeling like, well, a thing. A whole array of strangers see you in various states of undress. They ask you extremely personal questions. They do all sorts of things to your body that range from mildly uncomfortable to wildly painful. Five years ago, when I had my own medical crisis, I began to feel like nothing but a big lump of meat. During the entire ordeal, I cried often-alone, and with my husband-but only once did I shed tears in a doctor’s office. Did the doctor reach out to hold my hand? No. But if he had, it would have gone a long way toward helping me feel like myself again, and not just a defective body.

Others said they were creeped out when a doctor or other health care professional tried to hold their hand.

Is there a better way to teach people to become doctors than running them through medical boot camp? The Mayo Clinic has released a study contending that medical school burnout is eroding students’ altruism and professionalism. The survey of students at Mayo, the University of Minnesota, and five other medical schools suggested more than half of the soon-to-be doctors are already burned out.

2) George Exhantus was a prize-winning dancer, until the earthquake in Haiti left him with just one leg. He wanted to dance again but didn’t think he’d ever get the sophisticated prosthetic he’d need. Then people did what people do but don’t get enough credit for doing it. They did the right thing. And Exhantus is dancing.

3) Today’s required reading: Euan Kerr’s profile of St. Stephens shelter’s photographic exhibit featuring homeless people and audio of where they slept last night. The exhibition opens this evening.

A 12-year-old tried to do his part to call attention to the plight of young people without homes. Zach Bonner tried to walk 2,478 miles to raise awareness of homelessness. Yesterday he reached his goal of Santa Monica. He started in Tampa. What were you doing when you were 12?

2010 is the year Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised to end homelessness in Minnesota. There are an estimated 10,000 homeless people in the state now.

4) Then we have the super rich. A photographer has documented their private jets:


5) Some kids have got it. An Eden Prairie high schooler has invented a hands-free mouse for the computer. When he was a freshman, he invented a navigation program for his sprawling high school. That program is about to be employed by the Mall of America. His next project: Developing a functional light saber.

Bonus: How to photograph a nuclear bomb.

Even more bonuses: If you haven’t had your fill of creepy bug images, Robert Krulwich examines the secret weapon of termites: spit.


Iran says it received a bail payment of $500,000 before it released the American hiker who was freed Tuesday. Is it a good idea to pay foreign governments to release American prisoners?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Next week, the Senate will vote on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Under the policy, which has been in effect since the early 1990s, gay men and women can serve in the military as long as they don’t disclose their sexual orientations. Recent lawsuits have challenged the policy, but opponents of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” fear that openly gay service members would harm the morale and readiness of the United States military.

Second hour: Laurie Hertzel got her start as an unlikely reporter in Duluth. She describes her evolution from shy newsroom observer to an international correspondent on an assignment in Russia and her current gig at the Star Tribune.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Former Humphrey press secretary Norm Sherman and former Humphrey advance man D.J. Leary discuss the life of Hubert Humphrey. A documentary about the former senator and vice president debuts tonight.

Second hour: This week, the 15 percent U.S. poverty rate officially matches that of the 1960s. American RadioWorks presents the documentary, “The War on Poverty: From the Great Society to the Great Recession.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: A look at yesterday’s primary elections with NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: ABC Nightline correspondent John Donvan shares what he learned about growing older from people who are diagnosed with autism.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Three months into the state’s changes to General Assistance, some rural counties, hospitals and clinics are looking at creative ways to make the troubled program work. How are they doing it, and what’s happened to the rural poor who need health care? MPR’s Tom Robertson has the story this afternoon.

Kristin Cheronis is one of the foremost objects conservators in the upper Midwest. Her job is to restore and preserve public sculptures, monuments and other artifacts and Twin Cities officials rely heavily on her expertise. MPR’s Chris Roberts will profile her.

MPR’s Dan Olson will have the story of a controversy in Roseville, where some neighbors are upset with a plan by Bituminous Roadways to build an asphalt plant on a 14-acre industrial site within 850 feet of the nearest home.

  • Zebulun

    That’s quite a contrast in living conditions, and it is an apt analogy for the hard reality in relation to public debate in this country. This kid, or more appropriately young man, sees the hard reality. Meanwhile, Congress debates seemingly no-brainer issues over and over again, seeing only the election.

  • Bob Moffitt

    This post reminds me of the titular character in the TPT Britcom “Doc Martin,” which is a great show, BTW.

    I have known and worked with doctors nearly my entire career. Most are more “House” than “Marcus Welby, MD” when it come to their interactions with patients.

    One notable exception: an Africa-born specialist I saw for an injured wrist. Funny, warm, professional, and demonstrative. I wish there were more like him in the industry.

  • Bob Collins

    I’m lucky to have Marcus Welby. Dr. Gary Konkol in Woodbury (he’s the guy building that house in Hudson that’s a model for energy efficiency) is the kind of doctor who wants to know how the family’s doing and is always running late because he TALKS to his patients. I always try to grab the first appointment of the day. A great guy. Wonderful doctor who gives a rip. Med students take note.

  • Christin

    Our pediatrician is the kind of doctor you describe, Bob. We see Dr. David Hendrick at Aspen Medical Group on East Lake Street. Dr. Hendrick first served our family when my son was a baby and we needed him to be seen right away due to illness; he was not our family physician at the time. I was a young mother (19) and used to being “talked down to” by professionals due to my age and the assumptions people make about young single moms. Dr. Hendrick treated me with respect and I left our appointment feeling a little bit taller. He immediately became our primary pediatrician. Eleven years later, we have followed him from his original clinic in Kenwood to Aspen Medical group. Dr. Hendrick sees both of my children, and I look forward to talking with him every appointment.

  • John P

    I really don’t care much one way or the other about the hand holding sort of thing from my doctor. I don’t object, but I really don’t expect it. A certain amount of understanding and sympathy for what I am going through is all I need from a doctor or nurse and that is easily expressed verbally. What I am looking for from medical professionals is objective medical advice. I want the science from them. I go to my wife for comforting.

  • Momkat

    Looks like the super rich go to Donald Trump for decorating ideas.

  • Heather

    Humane-doctor props to Dr. Mark Stannard at the Hudson Clinic in WI. My husband will actually go to him (and he gave himself stitches once). He’s never held our hands, but he is never condescending, and he relates to us as people, not as items on his checklist for the day. Seeing him feels like health care with the emphasis on CARE.