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.
Just as a bit of an intro, my name is Conrad Hayes, I'm a 4th year medical student studying in Staffordshire. My medical school are quite big on getting us into the habit of writing down reflections. It's something I feel I do subconsciously whilst I'm with patients or in teaching sessions, but frankly I suck at the written bit and I feel on the whole it's probably because there's nobody discussing this with us or telling me I'm an idiot for some of the things I may think/say!
So I think if I'm going to attempt to complete a blog then I am going to do it in a reflective style and I do look forward to peoples feedback and discussions. I'll try to do it daily and see if that works out well, or weekly. But hopefully even if it doesn't get much response it can just be a store for me to look back on things! (Providing I keep up with it).
So I'll start now, with a short reflection on my career aspirations which have been pretty much firmed up, but today I gave a presentation that I felt really galvanised me into this. So I want to do Emergency Medicine and Expedition Medicine (on the side more than as my main job). Emergency Medicine appeals to me as I love primary care and being the first to see patients, but I want to see them when they're ill and have a role in the puzzle solving, as it were, that is their issues. Possibly more to the point I want to do this in a high pressure environment where acutely ill individuals come in, and I feel (having done placements in A&E and GP and AMU) A&E is the place for me to be.
Expedition Medicine on the other hand is something I accidentally stumbled upon really. In 2nd year I was part of a podcast group MedHeads that we tried to set up at my medical school. I interviewed Dr Amy Hughes of Expedition & Wilderness Medicine, a UK company, and I got really excited about the concepts she was talking about. Practicing medicine in the middle of nowhere, limited resources and sometimes only personal accumen and ingenuity to help you through. It sounded perfect! And since then I've wanted to do it, particularly being interested in Mountain Medicine and getting involved with some research groups.
Today in front of my group I gave a presentation on the effects of altitude on the brain (I'm on Neurology at the moment and we had to pick a topic that interested us). I spoke for 15 minutes, a concept that usually terrifies me truth be told, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Now I've given a fair number of presentations but this was the first time I was actively excited and really happy about talking! It seems to me that if that isn't the definition of why you should go for a job, then I need to talk to a careers advisor. This experience has definitely ensured I pursue this course with every resource I have available to me!
I would be interested in hearing how other people feel about their careers panning out and what got them into it so feel free to leave a comment!!
This is a review of 'Research Skills for Medical Students' 1st Edition (Allen, AK – 2012 Sage: London ISBN 9780857256010)
Themes – Research Skills, Critical Analysis Medical Students
Thesis – Research and critical analysis are important skills as highlighted by Tomorrow’s Doctors
Allen, drawing on many years’ experience as a researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Education, at Cardiff University has bridged the gap in Research methodology literature targeted at medical students. Pushing away from comparative texts somewhat dry and unengaging tones, this book encourages student interaction, empowering the student from start to finish. Not so much a book as a helpful hand guiding the student through the pitfalls and benefits of research and critical analysis from start to finish.
Part of the Learning Matters Medical Education series, in which each book relates to an outcome of Tomorrow’s Doctors, this book is written from the a lecturers standpoint, guiding students through making sense of research, judging research quality, how to carry out research personally, writing research articles and how to get writings published. All of these are now imperative skills in what is a very competitive medical employment market.
This concise book, through its clarity, forcefulness, correct and direct use of potentially new words to the reader, Allen manages to fully develop the books objectives, using expert narrative skills.
With Allen’s interest in Global health, it is little wonder why this books exposition is clear and impartial, Allen consistently refers back to the Tomorrows doctors guidelines at the beginning of each chapter, enabling students to link the purpose of that chapter to the grander scheme. This enables Allen to argue the relevance of each chapter to the student before they have disregarded it. Openly declared as a book aimed at medical students (and Foundation trainees where appropriate) the authors style remains formal, but with parent like undertones. It is written to encapsulate and involve the student reader personally, with Allen frequently using ‘you’ as if directly speaking to the reader, and useful and appropriate activities that engage the reader in the research process, in an easy to use student friendly format.
This book is an excellent guide for all undergraduate health students, not limited to medical students, and I thank Ann K Allen for imparting her knowledge in such a useful and interactive way.'
This was original published on medical educator.
The registrar's face was taking on a testy look. So enduring was the silence our furtive glances had developed a nystagmic quality. “Galactosaemia” came her peremptory reply. Right on queue the disjointed chorus of ahs and head nods did little to hide our mental whiteboard of differentials being wiped clean. At the time conjugated bilirubinaemia in children only meant one thing: biliary atresia. A fair assumption; we were sitting in one of three specialist centres in the country equipped to treat these patients. Ironically the condition has become the unwieldy yardstick I now measure the incidence of paediatric disease.
Biliary atresia is the most common surgical cause of neonatal jaundice with a reported incidence of 1 in 14-16ooo live births in the West. It is described as a progressive inflammatory obliteration of the extrahapatic bile duct. And Dr Charles West, the founder of Great Ormond Street Hospital, offers an eloquent description of the presenting triad of prolonged jaundice, pale acholic stools and dark yellow urine:
‘Case 18...It was born at full term, though small, apparently healthy. At 3 days however, it began to get yellow and at the end of 3 weeks was very yellow. Her motions at no time after the second day appeared natural on examination, but were white, like cream, and her urine was very high coloured.’
1855 was the year of Dr West's hospital note. An almost universally fatal diagnosis and it would remain so for the next 100 years. The time's primordial classification of biliary atresia afforded children with the 'noncorrectable' type, a complete absence of patent extrahepatic bile duct, an unfortunate label; they were beyond saving. Having discovered the extent of disease at laparatomy, the surgeons would normally close the wound. The venerable Harvardian surgeon, Robert E. Gross saved an enigmatic observation: “In most instances death followed a downhill course…”
K-A-S-A-I read the ward’s board. It was scrawled under half the children's names. I dismissed it as just another devilishly hard acronym to forget. The thought of an eponymous procedure had escaped me and in biliary atresia circles, it's the name everyone should know: Dr Morio Kasai.
Originating from Aomori prefecture, Honshu, Japan, Dr Kasai graduated from the National Tohoku University School of Medicine in 1947. His ascension was rapid, having joined the 2nd department of Surgery as a general surgeon, he would assume the role of Assistant Professor in 1953. The department, under the tenure of Professor Shigetsugu Katsura, shared a healthy interest in research.
1955 was the landmark year. Katsura and Kasai operated on their first case: a 72 day old infant. Due to bleeding at the incised porta hepatis, Katsura is said to have 'placed' the duodenum over the site in order to staunch the flow. She made a spectacular postoperative recovery, the jaundice had faded and there was bile pigment in her stool. During the second case, Katsura elected to join the unopened duodenum to the porta hepatis. Sadly the patient's jaundice did not recover, but the post-mortem conducted by Kasai confirmed the development of a spontaneous internal biliary fistula connecting the internal hepatic ducts to the duodenum. Histological inspection of removed extrahepatic duct showed the existence of microscopic biliary channels, hundreds of microns in diameter. Kasai made a pivotal assertion: the transection of the fibrous cord of the obliterated duct must contain these channels before anastomosis with the jejunal limb Roux-en-Y loop. This would ensure communication between the porta hepatis and the intrahepatic biliary system. The operation, entitled hepatic portoenterostomy, was first performed as a planned procedure for the third case at Tohoku. Bile flow was restored and Kasai published the details of the new technique in the Japanese journal Shujutsu in 1959. However, news of this development did not dawn on the West until 1968 in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. The success of the operation and its refined iterations were eventually recognized and adopted in the 1970s. The operation was and is not without its dangers. Cholangitis, portal hypertension, malnutrition and hepatopulmonary syndrome are the cardinal complications. While diagnosing and operating early (<8 weeks) are essential to the outcome, antibiotic prophylaxis and nutritional support are invaluable prognostic factors.
Post operatively, the early clearance of jaundice (within 3 months) and absence of liver cirrhosis on biopsy, are promising signs. At UK centres the survival after a successful procedure is 80%. The concurrent development of liver transplantation boosts this percentage to 90%. Among children, biliary atresia is the commonest indication for transplantation; by five years post-Kasai, 45% will have undergone the procedure.
On the 6th December 2008, Dr Kasai passed away. He was 86 years old and had been battling the complications of a stroke he suffered in 1999. His contemporaries and disciples paint a humble and colourful character. A keen skier and mountaineer, Dr Kasai lead the Tohoku University mountain-climbing team to the top of the Nyainquntanglha Mountains, the highest peaks of the Tibetan highlands. It was the first successful expedition of its kind in the world. He carried through this pioneering spirit into his professional life. Paediatric surgery was not a recognized specialty in Japan. By founding and chairing multiple associations including the Japanese Society of Pediatric Surgeons, Dr Kasai gave his specialty and biliary atresia, the attention it deserved.
Despite numerous accolades of international acclaim for his contributions to paediatric surgery, Dr Kasai insisted his department refer to his operation as the hepatic portoenterostomy; the rest of the world paid its originator the respect of calling it the ‘Kasia’. Upon completion of their training, he would give each of his surgeons a hand-written form of the word ‘Soshin’ [simple mind], as he believed a modest surgeon was a good one.
At 5 foot 2, Kasai cut a more diminutive figure one might expect for an Emeritus Professor and Hospital Director of a university hospital. During the course of his lifetime he had developed the procedure and lived to see its fruition. The Kasia remains the gold standard treatment for biliary atresia; it has been the shinning light for what Willis J. Potts called the darkest chapter in paediatric surgery. It earned Dr Kasai an affectionate but apt name among his peers, the small giant.
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This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, April 2014 issue.