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Should I become a doctor?

Posted By Melissa Eirich, Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Should I become a doctor?

I recently spent 8 hours talking to middle school students about being a physician.  It was not what I expected.  This was not the first time I have spoken to middle school student about being a physician.  Specifically, being an Emergency Medicine physician.  Usually I get asked about gun shots and helicopters: the dramatic stuff they see on TV.  I was prepared for those questions.  I even had a slide show running in the background with real pictures of Emergency Department patients, staff running codes, gun shot and stab wounds, and the mandatory ambulance and helicopter pictures.  This group of students were coached to ask the really hard questions:  How much schooling does it take to become a doctor?  How much does medical school cost?  How much do doctors make? 

Great questions that I wish I had asked when I was in high school.  I am not saying that it would have changed my direction, but who knows?  I knew very little about being a doctor before applying to college.  It probably did not help that I applied to a 6-year combined B.S./M.D. program that sealed my educational fate.  No one ever sat me down and said, “Here are some career options in medicine.  Here are the pros and cons….”  Being well into my third decade in medicine, I have seen a lot of pros and cons in all fields of medicine but not a lot about educating students about them.

I was academic faculty at the University of Rochester for over 12 years.  We trained residents and medical students at all levels.  Yet, there were no lectures on the pros and cons of practicing medicine. By the time you got there, it was assumed you knew what you were in for.  Shame and disappointment was always associated with anyone leaving medical school or residency.  Changing from one residency to another was quite embarrassing and difficult.  Obviously, you were not up to the challenge of that field. 

But how would you know if you really did not know the deep secrets of the field?  Yes, we teach the necessary medical knowledge each field requires.  However, we do not teach students the real costs of medicine.  There is a lot of stress on the individual and their family.  Suicide rates for physicians are more than DOUBLE the rate of the general population.  Double.  The rate of alcohol and drug abuse for physicians is greater than the general public.  Why are the healers so in need of healing?

The answers are complex but part of the problem is preparation.  We are warned repeatedly in medical school just how stressful it is and most schools offer programs and counselors to help.  Once we get into residency, the pressure and hours are more intense and less help is available.  We keep thinking that once we get through residency, things will be so much better.  Well, that is often not the case.  The hours might be better – or might not.  They pay is better but now we have more responsibilities.  We are not adequately prepared for the new stresses of post-residency life.  We have spent 11-15 years in intense training with the false belief that a bigger paycheck will solve many of our problems.  Nope.  Now we must pay back all those student loans, which often add up to $400,000 - $500,000 once the interest is added.  Not to mention the exponentially increasing paperwork, regulations, and minimum requirements needed to practice medicine.  Oh, and taking care of patients…

My goal is to help prepare students and residents for some of these challenges.  This group can offer education, advice and support to other women in medicine.  Hopefully, this blog will start to address some of those issues.  I want to talk about the non-medical parts of medicine: the real and personal parts. 

Please post your questions and comments.  I will do my best to answer them. 




Tags:  biomedical  medical career  medicine  physician  science education; physics  STEM  students 

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PhD Student Francesca Day on Symmetry

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, July 29, 2014
This article first appeared in Science and BeliefRuth Bancewicz's blog.

Symmetry or Fine Tuning?
Francesca Day

Why is there so much symmetry in nature? I shared some examples 
in an earlier post, and questioned whether there was a link between these and the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe.
 I asked Francesca Day, a
PhD student at the University of Oxford, if she could investigate. Francesca’s own work is on 
the astrophysical signatures of dark radiation, and here she explains why she thinks symmetry might lead
to a more wonderful explanation of the universe than the mystery of fine-tuning.

Many argue that if the laws of physics had been just slightly different, life – or
at least life as we know it – would not have been possible in the universe. The fundamental laws and parameters of physics seem to have conspired so as to make the formation of life possible. To many it seems as if science is pointing to a designer of the universe who set all these parameters just right for us – as
if science is pointing the way to God.

Some scientists invoke a version of the “anthropic principle” to explain fine-tuning. The idea is that there are many universes (or many different patches of our universe) with different values of the fundamental parameters. It is not surprising that we live in the universe or patch with parameters that allow life. However, this argument is pretty speculative and, some would say, something of a cop out.

So where might fine-tuning come from? Why do the laws of physics seem just right for life? Has God carefully crafted and adjusted them to allow our evolution? Is God like a piano tuner, meticulously tightening the strings of the universe until everything is just so? Or did God make a piano that could never be out of tune? Does the apparent fine-tuning in the laws of physics emerge from deeper, more fundamental laws? I, along with many other physicists, think it might do, and that those deeper laws might be symmetries.

Over the past 100 years, symmetry has emerged as the principle that underpins the physical universe. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is based on a symmetry between “inertial frames” – observers moving at a constant velocity with respect to each other. Einstein realised that the speed of light should look the same in all inertial frames – even if the observer is moving very quickly away from or towards the light source. This simple but counter-intuitive symmetry revolutionised our understanding of space and time. It forced us to realise that time is not the rigid path we once thought, but behaves as a fourth dimension whose progress depends on the motion of the observer.

Ruth Bancewicz explained how symmetries can lead to fundamental laws of nature via Noether’s theorem. In this way, the structure of the laws of physics is ruled by symmetry. The particles that make up all matter in our universe are also governed by “internal symmetries” – symmetries that do not depend on space or time but which govern the behaviour and interactions of the particles themselves. These symmetries determine much of the structure we see in the particle world.

Physicists today are trying to uncover deeper symmetries in the physical world – deeper symmetries in the behaviour of subatomic particles and deeper symmetries in space and time themselves. Perhaps these deeper symmetries lead to the laws of physics as we know them today, in a similar way to how rotational symmetry leads to the law of conservation of angular momentum via Noether’s theorem. Perhaps instead of fine-tuning each law of physics individually, God created the universe with a set of symmetries that naturally led to laws that are just right for life.

As a Christian and a physicist, I believe that God created a world that we have the power to explore and understand. This includes seeking deeper and deeper theories for why the fundamental laws and parameters are the way they are. Rather than the traditional view of fine-tuning pointing directly to God, I see it as part of an invitation from him. Why is the universe just right for life? With this question, God invites us to explore his creation and to discover the underlying principles He wove into it.

For me, symmetry is an intriguing and beautiful potential solution to the fine-tuning problem. These glorious symmetries on which creation is based could take us beyond our picture of fine-tuning and point the way to a deeper understanding of the universe.

Francesca Day won the Christians in Science student essay prize in 2013, and has also written for the Huffington Post.

Tags:  science education; physics 

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